About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Maia Caron interviews Ophelia Benson ... plus some bonus words about Does God Hate Women?

Another great interview by Maia Caron - and while I'm talking about Ophelia Benson, I seriously recommend her book, co-authored with Jeremy Stangroom, Does God Hate Women?

I read this punchy little book recently, and could not stop turning the pages. I stayed up until I'd finished it. Apart from anything else, it's an excellent corrective to the many broad-brush defences of traditional Islam that you'll encounter. For example, the authors dig deep down into the Muslim literature to contest glib defences of Muhammad's marriage to Aisha when she was a very young girl. In doing so, they make Karen Armstrong's sentimentalised account look evasive, unscholarly, and intellectually dishonest. Likewise, they painstakingly destroy the easy claim, and associated specious arguments, that Islam has no causal connection to female genital mutilation. They explain the problem with indiscriminately throwing around a silencing term such as "Islamophobia."

These are all tough subjects to write about clearly and honestly, during a tense period in community relations in most Western countries, but the authors approach them with a pleasing intellectual rigour. As their example reinforces, we should not shy away from unpalatable truths in the name of social harmony - it's dishonest and, in the long run, not likely to be productive.

Back to the interview, here's a good sample:

[...] groups are not people; groups don’t suffer, groups aren’t conscious, groups don’t have feelings. It is the individuals who make up the groups who are and have and do all that – and each one does it separately, one at a time. The feelings of all those individuals do not add up to one big feeling that the group has – they remain separate. That’s not a reason for people to act as selfishly as possible, but it sure as hell is a reason for people to remember that group prosperity does not automatically translate to happiness for every individual in the group. The same of course applies to families. People who focus all their concern on groups or families or ‘communities’ risk simply forgetting that some members of groups have more power than others, some have different interests and needs from others, some see the world differently from others. How this cashes out in practice is of course that the men of a particular ‘community’ are taken to represent the whole community when in fact the women of that community may have radically different wants and needs from the men.


Anonymous said...

Type 'does god hate women' into a Facebook search and two groups come up. One for the book with 53 members and another quite against the book with 399 members. The latter group is made up of concerned muslims (should I use a capital m?),seems this book is stirring up something.

Daniel said...

I'll always remember the Q&A episode about religion that featured Hitchens. A female Iranian Muslim in the crowd spooke up at the end, saying "nothing in the Koran denegrates women, Allah gives women all of our rights". This was of course to some smug approving nods from the crowd and some of the other panel members. He responded by saying that she was an absolute insult to her fellow sisters back in Tehran.

Something about coddling to religion, despite its obvious and sometimes horrific consequences, seems to make a large percentage of people feel safe and smug and secure.

Maia Caron said...

Thanks for mentioning my interview with Ophelia and for raising the point that the subjects in Does God Hate Women? are difficult to write about with the clarity in which these authors excel. The fact that there exists a Facebook page against the book, shows that Benson and Stangroom have hit a nerve and that books that stir the status quo pot are doing their job.

Thanks also for providing freethinkers another forum of expression in your and Udo Schuklenk's excellent 50 Voices of Disbelief.

Shatterface said...

I read Benson and Stangroom's 'Why Truth Matters' a few weeks back and can't recommend it highly enough so I'm looking forward to reading 'Does God Hate Women?' in the near future.

Benson is not just anti-religion she is a consistant defender of Enlightenment values.

Ophelia Benson said...

Thanks Russell!