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Who’s Afraid of Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Cultural Imperialism and Islamophobia

Brandeis University has withdrawn the honorary degree promised Ayaan Hirsi Ali after realizing that Ali has criticized Islam in the past. In fact, criticising Islam was the focus of her best-selling memoir Infidel. The petition to reject her was written by a barely literate undergrad peeved that the university would honor someone who is “an outright Islamophobic.” Oh dear. Views are Islamophobic. People are Islamophobes.

But despite the ill-conceived reaction, there is a tension here. It’s one thing to point out that, generally speaking, Islamic cultures worldwide tolerate what non-Islamic people would call misogyny more than other cultures. Female genital mutilation, child brides, violently enforced dress codes for women are more prevalent in Islamic societies than in non-Islamic societies. This is true, and needs to be said.

But it’s quite another to say Islam itself is misogynistic. Ali has pointed out that the Quran mandates harsh punishments for women and described the religion as a “cage.” Her message is that Islam oppresses women. She has said, “I think we are at war with Islam.”

It is lazy and unhelpful to take the craziest, worst people/aspects of a religion or ideology and use them to critique it as a whole.

It’s lazy because it lacks nuance and understanding. Islam is the fastest-growing religion on the planet. It’s been around a while and is practiced in a multitude of ways throughout the globe. To say it is necessarily anything, other than maybe monotheistic, is necessarily to stereotype and overgeneralize.

And it’s unhelpful. Because Islam isn’t the enemy, misogyny is. Calling Islam misogynistic makes Islam the enemy, which makes the Muslims who love it and hold it dear the enemy.

You simply cannot decry an entire religion and then expect to be considered a credible source on how to make it better. Defeating the misogyny lurking in how many people practice Islam is best done by first understanding Islam, its context, and its history.

It’s when people fail to do this that they are charged with “cultural imperialism.” And as culture reformers, it’s important to recognize the real threat it poses. There is an imperialist element (and history) to Western desire to go and tell the rest of the world how they should live. It is presumptuous, at the very least, to assume “our way” is better. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong. It does mean, however, that we should be careful.

“Here’s how it might benefit you to do Islam this way,” is an easier, less problematic sell than “Islam is bad.”

However, we cannot be so afraid of cultural imperialism, as Brandeis appears to be, that we refuse to point out, or listen to those who point out, the ways the current practices of many Islamic communities are major human rights violations.

We need a healthy fear of cultural imperialism. But we cannot let that fear silence cultural critique. We must remember that respect for culture is needed to understand culture, which is needed to critique culture, which is needed to improve culture.

Our opinionated petitioner said, in full:

But it’s not just the Muslim community that is upset but students and faculty of all religious beliefs. A university that prides itself on social justice and equality should not hold up someone who is an outright Islamophobic.

While there is a tension, and we must beware of cultural imperialism and making enemies out of Muslims, that tension is not best dealt with by silencing Islam’s critics. The way to rebut Ali’s claims that Islam is fundamentally misogynist is to bring in Muslims who agitate for female equality. Because ultimately, a university which prides itself on social justice and equality should not be so afraid of charges of Islamophobia that it squelches critiques aimed at improving life for women and girls throughout the globe.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

I was on the Independents!

The good folks at Fox Business’ first and only libertarian news show were kind enough to have me on. Virginia Postrel, the crew and I talked about Mozilla, free speech and street harassment.


Little Girls Don’t Need the State to Protect Them from Photoshop

Well, give Miss Representation credit. The inescapable “It’s for the children!” is right there in their petition’s name: Join Our Family To Stop Advertising Hurting Our Kids; Support the Truth In Advertising Act. The proposed bill would require the Federal Trade Commission to regulate advertisers’ use of image alteration, as well as create and maintain what would essentially be a Congressional Photoshop report. No doubt the aims are righteous. Evidence exists that the ubiquity of highly retouched imagery can have a pernicious effect on young girls’ self-image. However, it’s precisely this ubiquity which makes a bill like this an untenable attack on free speech.

The bill attempts to specify the kinds of Photoshop it wants to regulate, only applying the regulations to image alterations which “materially change the physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals depicted.” However, this is obviously an impossible-to-enforce, entirely subjective value judgment.

What we’ve seen with overbroad legislation like this in other industries is selective enforcement. As Laurie Rice pointed out, it’s most likely that “enforcement or non-enforcement will be traded as political favor between members of the FTC and leaders of more powerful advertising companies to crowd out competition from smaller companies – the very companies that might have otherwise offered alternative media with a more positive message for young women.”

Nadine Strossen warned against using censorship to achieve feminist aims in “On Pornography: Lessons From Enforcement:”

The pro-censorship feminists cannot have it both ways. If, as they contend, governmental power is inevitably used to the particular disadvantage of relatively disempowered groups, such as women, it follows that women’s rights advocates should oppose measures that augment that power, including Dworkin/MacKinnon-type laws.

Even if the law were enforced evenly across the board, it puts undue strain on artists who attempt to sell their work. No one wants or needs a struggling photographer to disclose to the federal government exactly how their images were made.

Think that wouldn’t happen? Think again. Carolyn Davis and her son began a moving business after he lost his job in construction. Before long, armed police officers stormed the home of these menaces to society and impounded their vehicle for the crime of advertising and moving people without a license.

Molly Van Roekel put it eloquently: “This is slapping a band aid over the problem and blaming the artists for a cultural problem.”

Miss Representation claims that altered images of perfect models have a negative impact on girls’ satisfaction with their own appearance. This may or may not be true, but there are other, cooperative ways to combat the problem. Parents and educators can challenge the message girls get everywhere from Disney princesses to romantic comedies that their worth lies in their appearance.

Parents and educators should also educate young girls about image alteration. Recognizing that the vast majority of images the public consumes are altered in some way can alleviate girls’ anxiety over not resembling those images.

In addition, the #notbuyingit campaign exists to call out sexism in advertising, and empowers people to stop buying products marketed with sexist messaging.

Luckily, the legislation itself isn’t likely to make any difference. Govtrack gives it a 1% chance of being enacted. The larger problem at play here is that by seeking to ban every kind of speech feminists find distasteful, they discredit a movement with important and worthy goals. Campaigns like this wrongly associate feminists and others concerned about equal opportunity for girls with efforts to curtail speech rights and grow government. Creating a culture which is less hostile to young ladies’ well-being will require proposals which respect the First Amendment and allow a free and open marketplace of ideas.

This post originally appeared at


I was invited onto the Truth Over Comfort podcast to discuss privilege, racism, feminism, and sexism in the libertarian community.

I thought it was a really helpful, civil, interesting discussion and I appreciate the opportunity to have had it!


Individuals Do Not Exist in a Vacuum

We’ve got another awesome Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.

Momma told me when I was young,

Something I can’t quite recall,

But I know by the ways she cared

Nothing need be said at all.


Can you put in words your wide world,

Leaving no memory obscured?

Could you surmise your love for boy or girl,

And consider your insatiability cured?


Momma told me many stories;

She sang me the songs she was sung,

And so the melody lives within me,

Though, for now, the words escape my tongue


I can’t spell out the past,

My youth being lived, not read,

But just like an unsung memory

Our pasts live in every moment unsaid.


For the world is an unbroken thing,

Flowing through each to each

 Persons, moments, and places unspoken

A visceral knowledge we cannot speak.

I have heard many a libertarian proclaim with gusto, “I only see people as individuals.”

Now, I have no issue with the basic concept, but I must be honest; when parroting this phrase myself, I have not really known what it fully implies, what sorts of actions it suggests, or considered how other people hear these words.

So, let me ask the question, what does it mean to see and respect others only as individuals?

How we each answer this question is the crux of how we will build a culture based in individual liberty.

While most folks in this world are marked by homophily, i.e. “birds of a feather flock together,” I’ve always been one marked by heterophily. I venture this has something to do with the fact that I’ve always been a bit of an outlier, a keep-it-to-myself skeptic in a city of nearly a thousand churches. I am used to being of a different opinion than the majority, and I have found I am better off when I engage with people who honestly challenge me rather than when I break bread with a cadre of yes-men repeating worn out nostrums.

I once thought this posture meshed swimmingly with “I only see others as individuals,” but I now find this phrase has become a bit of a libertarian banality, and when bandied about in a matter of fact manner, it often proves counterproductive to the cause of fostering a larger culture base in individual liberty.

But my porpoise here is not merely to provide a petite critique of cliché. My point is to say the liberty movement must move beyond its current cultural boundaries. Some libertarians are right to point out that spreading liberty requires creating a larger culture, i.e. a shared interpretive knowledge, that bolsters liberty for all. This entails not only creating culture anew but also engaging prevailing cultures, which means first and foremost admitting their existence.

Mr. Libertarian himself, Murray Rothbard, understood individuals do not exist in a vacuum:

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one or several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. He is generally born into a ‘country.’ He is always born into a specific historical context of time and place, meaning neighborhood and land area.

When liberty lovers try to fit people into the brutalist blank slate framework of “the individual,” doing so often leads people to forget the diverse factors that mold each of us into unique individuals. The refusal to see such cultural forces retards our ability to discover a larger culture based in individual liberty.

For most of my life, I was a brutal individualist (I still am in many ways.) For example, I can recall an awkward exchange back in my college days. It all happened in an identity politics class where our whimsical, polka-dot socked progressive feminist of a professor was making the point that everyone makes snap judgments of others based upon race and gender. I found her point to be false. I had made it a conscious point in my life to not judge others based upon appearances and conventional social norms, i.e. judge people by their shown character and give them the benefit of the doubt for the sake of understanding why they do what they do.

Lacking eloquence, I piped up in the group discussion and claimed I try not to see others through group identities, that I don’t “see race or gender” only individuals. Judging from the reaction of the folks in the class, I immediately knew I had uttered an idiotic statement. Maybe what I was trying to say wasn’t stupid, but what I had actually said was indeed boorish. I had played the part of the boob once again.

Of course race and gender exist! And guess who possesses the such qualities?


So, I tried a different route. I remarked I try not to presume anything. I strive to see others only as individuals because what really matters in this world is each person’s own self-defined identity, i.e. how they think of the themselves in the larger world.

Who gives a shit what others think, right?

Wrong. I was on the right track, but I clearly did and do give a shit. Many shits in fact. Why else would I have been talking to the people in that class if I didn’t care what they thought? Why would I speak for a living or write these very words if I did not care about other people’s thoughts?

At the time, I didn’t understand the intense push back I received. People didn’t think I was telling the truth. Fair enough. They accused me of trying to downplay the role of gender and race in society. That wasn’t my intention. They claimed we all, including you Joey, presume and make judgments along lines of physical appearance and group identity. They claimed I was only able to think of myself as an individual first and foremost because I was a privileged white male. I was baffled by their comments and felt attacked on the basis of my race and gender. They did not understand me, and I did understand them. I wish I could go back to the folks in that class and speak to them now.

I’m sure some of us would still disagree on the issues. For instance, I disdain the brutalist approach when it comes to identity politics just as much as I do when it comes to individualism. Boxing people into static, inherently antagonistic hierarchies along the lines of race, gender, economic class, nationality, etc. is just as bad as trying to stuff people into the blank slate framework of “the individual.” Both approaches deny the nuance needed to investigate the contingent, ever-changing nature of human identity and agency.

Such disagreements aside, there seemed to be something lost in our exchange. Something valuable that could have elevated our discourse and sense of community. Though we were all speaking English, it felt as though we were speaking different languages: that the words we wished to speak fell silent in the wake of what we actually said.

I have seen many instances of such “lost in translation” on a daily basis. Whether it be conservative talk radio land, social media comment sections, libertarian “in-fighting clubs,” or the good ole’ dinner table with family members; I have too often witnessed people talking past one another when there is plenty of room for understanding and growth.

There are many reasons for why this occurs, e.g. sometimes the truth is people want to start a fight for the sake of defending their tribe or pride, but I would like to focus in on the notion that people often do not search for multi-faceted answers; they do not strive to incorporate multiple types of knowledge and lived experiences, especially those alien to their own. In doing so, they diminish their capacity to see and respect others as individuals.

The physicist corrects the philosopher. The philosopher corrects the psychologist. The psychologist corrects the economist. The economist corrects the statistician. The statistician corrects the artist. And they all correct the talk radio jock; he is the lowest of the low; for if you ever find yourself at the pinnacle of the radio stardom, you will soon realize you are still at sea level.

These specialists and many more each have something valuable to provide to the process of creating the larger tapestry of a free society. We all share a common but human interest in seeking happiness. Unfortunately, we frequently sacrifice the common interest of our converging diversity of knowledge on the altar of our particular knowledge and narrow interests.

So allow me now to pose an tentative answer to my initial question, what does it mean to see and respect others as individuals?

It means a process of creation, discovery, and outreach in which we seek out how our unique individual interests mesh with one another. It is a game of give and take, an intricate dance where we strive to discover how our diverse individual interests harmonize. Through such a process what we find along the way is that our individuality becomes more vivid. Our localized knowledge becomes more pronounced and fruitful. Our individual interests serve as sparks, igniting the passionate fire of a community based in human liberty and peaceful cooperation.

Accordingly, the fight against the nation-state’s predation requires a need for accepting all forms of knowledge: empirical, practical, and emancipatory. This suggests not only specialization but also tolerance, i.e. a scientific humility towards those fields of study that are not one’s expertise and a peaceful posture towards those cultures alien to one’s own. Thus, where many libertarians have specialize in political philosophy, free market economics, and a plethora of other particular trades, I find it wise that some libertarians are now emphasizing specialization in cultural interpretation, creation, and outreach.

I would like to expand on another form of knowledge, the emancipatory, that goes beyond the practical interpretations of the cultural critic or the perspicacious methods of the empirical scientist. It is the type knowledge found when science and culture are applied to the individual subject in search of freedom and has historically been found in praxis by liberation projects such as abolitionism, feminism, and various other civil rights movements.

Using the language of Jürgen Habermas (who I have criticized from an individualist perspective here,) this form of knowledge is the “emancipatory cognitive interest” where knowledge and interest become one through self-reflection, or as Habermas puts it:

The human interest in autonomy and responsibility is not mere fancy, for it can be apprehended a priori…Reason also means the will to reason. In self-reflection knowledge for the sake of knowledge attains congruence with the interest in autonomy and responsibility. The emancipatory cognitive interest aims at the pursuit of reflection as such. My fourth thesis is thus that in the power of self-reflection knowledge and interest are one.

In more simple terms, people long to be free. We wish to flourish. We want happiness! This desire for freedom and flourishing is innate; it goads us as babes to take our first steps; it precedes our words and motivates us to create language in the first place; it is found deep down in the marrow: in the miraculous yet sloppy nature of our bodies, emotions, and experiences.

Thus, guided by a mind intimate with the heart’s desire, we find emancipation through (1) critical self-reflection upon our own individual existence and (2) engagement with the community that surrounds us, discovering the depths of our unique individuality in tandem with our search for what we hold in common.

Being that there are many diverse individuals living in a variety of cultures out there in this weird wacky world of ours, such insights as to how to liberated people are bound to be just as diverse. Though they share much in common, the non-violent resistance of  Gandhi was not the same as that of MLK and Abernathy. Though similar, the market ingenuity of Carnegie was not the same as Ford’s which was not the same as Nakamoto’s.  We each have our own unique insights, passion, experiences, shapes, sizes, laws, and cultures we must face in our given time here on earth.

At the end of the day, we’re all fools. There is much we don’t know, and what we do know was only fostered through trial and error, scientific study, open discourse, humble reflection, and intrepid emancipatory action as we venture into the beautiful unknown that is the search for human freedom.

Through this looking-glass when I hear people say libertarians should be more attune to culture, I do not hear them necessarily attacking others. I think most of the time they are trying to provide another piece of the puzzle. I hear them advocating the need to respect the vast diversity embodied by us all as individual people. I hear them saying we need to listen to the distributed, visceral knowledge each person possesses. I hear them preaching we need to do the hard work of revealing the confluence of our individual interests that create our culture, and that we need to call out cultures of coercive oppression as we praise cultures that foster love and human flourishing.

Culture is the interpretation of our actions. It is the meaning of our history. It is the bumfuzzling kiss of our beautiful fallibility. We cannot put our heads in the sand to this fact. We cannot be passive. Furthermore, emancipatory action is not inevitable. We must engage and help create a free society by searching the humble horizons of our hearts and minds. Freedom truly is a do-it-yourself project.

There is an old saying that every person you meet is your teacher. We would be wise to learn this lesson. And when we do, I am hopeful we can offer avoid the lost in translations of our yesteryear by building a positive peace that actually sees and respects individuals rather than just saying we do.

joey headshot

Joey Clark is a freelance writer and political commentator. He is currently a radio producer and talk show host in Montgomery, AL. Read his blog. Send him mail.

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The morning-after pill/plan B & IUD don’t cause abortions. Learn how they work. GNFSG

Regardless of where you come down on its use, you should know that emergency contraception is no more an abortifacient than birth control, no matter how you define when life begins.

Further reading:

About me:


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Cannabis legalization, prostitution law challenge, Monica Jones, transadvocacy – GNFSG

Want more good news? Donate! 1FXPe7rStkCkn6juPnrmy96FH3KXJVbnfx

New Jersey prosecutors have come out in favor of legalization and in DC Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed the legislation decriminalizing cannabis possession

The UN Human Rights committee has called the US’ policy of criminalizing homelessness “cruel, inhuman and degrading” after a mentally ill homeless man baked to death in a Rikers’ Island prison.

The commission is calling for an end to laws against homelessness, something that will make the job of Jason King of Sean’s Outpost very happy. He runs a homeless shelter in Pensacola totally funded by bitcoin donations.

via @LadyBits

Futurist Karl Schroeder predicts artificial intelligence will soon replace the entire legal system, with major advancements in about six months. Soon we’ll have to replace lawyer jokes with robot ones.

Monica Jones is a 29-year-old trans woman and student of the Arizona State University’s School of Social Work. She was arrested for walking while black and trans under the state’s extremely wide-ranging suspicion of prostitution law.

But the Arizona ACLU is fighting laws which give cops the power to arrest vulnerable women for “engaging passersby in conversation repeatedly.”

#SchoolChoice programs consistently produce similar or better results for much less money.


Conservative Writer Desperately Needs Comprehensive Sex Education

On the same day that Massachusetts recommends all sex education classes in the state include accurate information on contraception and STI prevention, a writer at conservative site has written a scarily inaccurate article entitled Hobby Lobby: Should Employers be Forced to Provide Abortifacients?

Perhaps with access to quality sex education, writer Rachel Alexander would know that none of the products covered by the ACA are abortifacients.

Alexander’s very first sentence is untrue, “The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in the Hobby Lobby case, to decide whether a business that provides health-care insurance to its employees can be forced to include abortifacients in its coverage.” In reality, no form of abortion is covered by the ACA. Only contraceptives are covered.

Not only are Rachel Alexander (and Hobby Lobby) ignorant of or lying about what the term abortifacient means, but they’re also ignorant of or lying about how the contraceptives covered by the ACA work. For Alexander, Hobby Lobby, and anyone else who missed out on comprehensive sex education, an abortifacient causes an abortion. An abortion is the ending of a pregnancy. There are two generally accepted definitions of pregnancy. Some believe pregnancy happens as soon as an egg is fertilized. Some believe pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to uterine lining.

Here’s where things get misleading. Some people are fighting contraceptive usage by claiming that some forms of contraception prevent pregnancy by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in uterine lining. This is false. No form of contraception works that way. All forms of contraception work primarily by preventing ovulation and fertilization. It’s true that in theory, every form of birth control can fail to prevent fertilization and can interfere with implantation. But no form primarily works this way. In fact, no scientific evidence indicates that prevention of implantation actually results from the use of any of any form of contraception covered by the ACA.

How does the implant work? The “primary mechanism of action” is inhibiting ovulation. How do hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs work? They both keep sperm from reaching eggs. The claim that any form of contraceptive works primarily by keeping fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus does not stand up to any scientific scrutiny whatsoever. It is patently false.

Not only is Alexander misleading readers when it comes to the facts of the case, but she actually encourages women seeking abortions to look to the black market. “In today’s Internet society, any woman can purchase dirt-cheap abortifacients online without a prescription.” Sure, illegally. But there’s always a coat hanger lying around, right?

She also does understand what abortifacient are made out of. Pregnant women “can also take an increased dosage of contraceptives to act as an abortifacient, since that is all abortifacients are.” Well, no. Most are actually steroids.

Besides the fact that no one who is so incredibly, breathtakingly ignorant on contraception should be writing falsehoods about it for a major publication, the truth is that no one in America should be that so incredibly, breathtakingly ignorant on contraception. Learning how to prevent a pregnancy, even if you choose not to do it, is kind of a big deal.

Certainly, there are downsides to mandating sex education. Parental desire to shape their content and timing of their children’s introduction to sexual health is understandable, and should be protected. However, one only has to look at to see the great need for better and more information on how pregnancy and contraception actually work.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

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Good News for Small Government 3/24/14

Daily news show/video podcast/vlog of Cathy Reisenwitz.



via @DLind

A ruling which makes it harder for cops to harass people based on their ethnicity won’t be heard by the Supreme Court!

Yay for not being pulled over for driving while Mexican.

via Mike Riggs

Great report on Al-Jazeera America by Mike Riggs on mandatory minimum sentencing for crack cocaine possession. TLDR, the sentences were racist and useless and the process is being rolled back.

Via Kristen Anderson

Marco Rubio has come out for innovation and against stupid regulations.

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After libertarian podcaster Mike Shanklin publicly had some things to say about bitcoin privilege-gate, his co-host Robert Kruger started reading my stuff. This led to an invitation to come on their show,Voluntary Virtues, to discuss that issue and a few others. It was an interesting, civil discussion which was pretty enlightening regarding the way some people in the AnCap community view race and gender.