Culture Wars Battle of the Week

Bahar MustafaThis week’s social media outrage is all about Bahar Mustafa, the Diversity Officer for the Student Union of Goldsmiths College in London. First there was some controversy surrounding a diversity event from which white men were excluded, which quite probably got blown up out of all proportion. Then there were some allegedly offensive posts on Twitter using the #KillAllWhiteMen hashtag.

Now it’s all over the media, and she could end up losing her job.

Her defence of her behaviour isn’t helping.

She then defended her position on camera, saying ethnic minority women cannot be racist as they “do not stand to gain” from inequality.

Now I know that the American-originated Critical Race Theory redefines racism as “prejudice plus power”. But that not what the word means in common everyday usage in the wider world. Not only that, Britain’s laws on racial discrimination use the older and more widely understood definition.

But she added the uses of hashtags such as “kill all white men” on her personal account were “in-jokes and ways that many people in the queer feminist community express ourselves”.

Ah yes, the old “It’s just banter” defence. That worked so well when used by racist footballers. My own use of social media follows the principle “Never say on Twitter what you can’t justify to your employer or your mum”. That would have been good advice for Bahar Mustafa, or indeed anyone in a highly visible public position.

At this point it would be easy to paint Bahar Mustafa as a bad actor in the same vein as Lutfur Rahman or Benjanun Sriduangkaew. But a more charitable explanation might be that she simply lacks the self-awareness to realise how her remarks could be interpreted outside the self-referential bubble of academic leftism.

If there is a genuine need for so-called “safe spaces” for minorities at Goldsmiths College, then surely it ought to possible to articulate the reasons for them without using risible canards that play into the hands of white racism.

On the other hand you do wonder whether the middle-class identity politics that constantly casts white men rather than the wealthy elites as the villains actually achieves much when it comes to tackling serious structural inequality. When taken out of academia into the real world, it certainly won’t be terribly effective at winning over the traditional working-class vote that progressive forces need if they are ever to win elections and form governments.

Still, calls for Bahar Mustafa to be prosecuted are utterly ridiculous. As to whether she gets to keep her job is a matter for her employer, Goldsmiths College Student’s Union, not a mob of random people on the internet with virtual torches and pitchforks.

And nobody deserves death threats, no matter who they offend.

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22 Responses to Culture Wars Battle of the Week

  1. To most Americans, the definition of racism hasn’t changed. Parts of the liberal bourgeoisie are pushing the new definition, and since a lot of them are online, it seems like a lot of Americans accept that when few actually do.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Wasn’t suggesting that mainstream Amercan usage was any different, just that Critical Race Theory originated in America.

  3. On the other hand you do wonder whether the middle-class identity politics that constantly casts white men rather than the wealthy elites as the villains actually achieves much when it comes to tackling serious structural inequality.”

    I think you *nearly* have a point here but misunderstand the way that privilege is. It’s not that white men are the villains, it’s that we have unearned advantages over everyone else. Those advantages don’t disappear just because some white men are as badly off as everyone else – the disproportionate number of white men in the “wealthy elites” (many of whom are legit villains) isn’t just random chance.

    In my experience “killwhitemen” or “maletears” are totally in-jokes used by people who are sick of being characterised as fascists by sexists. That said, the point of in-jokes is that they’re funny to the in-group, and in the case of these examples, specifically designed to piss off people who troll that in-group. Using them in any sort of official organisational capacity is dumb at best.

    Edit – fixed broken HTML

  4. Those injokes are as accurate and as funny as talking about Zionists under a “killalljews” hashtags. Here’s a bit from “An Examination of Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive Theory and Practice in Social Work Education” by Marie Macey and Eileen Moxon:

    …an edifice of theory and action has been constructed on the simplistic ‘explanation’ of racism as being the outcome of power plus prejudice. Not only does this inaccurately assume a single cause and type of racism but it dangerously implies that there is a single solution to the phenomenon (Gilroy 1990; Husband, 1987; Miles, 1989).
    The view that racism is an attribute of the monolithic category of people termed ‘white’ who hold all the power in society is equally confused and confusing. At one level of abstraction, it is true that a certain sector of the (white, male) population holds much of the economic and decision-making power in British society. It is also true that some members of this group are statistically likely to be racially prejudiced. However, though this knowledge should inform social work education, it has limited utility at the operational level of social work or, often, in the everyday lives of black and white service workers.
    Furthermore, if a Pakistani Muslim male refuses to have an African-Caribbean or Indian Hindu female social worker for reasons which, if articulated by a white Christian would be condemned as racist, one has to ask what the point is of denying that this refusal stems from racist (or sexist or sectarian) motivations? Similarly, if one compares the structural position of a white, working class, homeless male with that of a black barrister, would the statement that ‘only whites have power’ make sense or be acceptable to either of them?
    …the approaches [of anti-racism theory] are theoretical and thus closed to the canons of scientific evaluation and because the discourse itself prohibits the open, rigorous and critical interrogation which is essential to theoretical, professional and personal development.

  5. Tim Hall says:

    White privilege is definitely a thing, and I’m not disputing that. But privilege goes beyond race, gender and sexuality; for example wealth, class and having a stable and supportive family are also huge privileges. But people like Bahar Mustafa never seem to talk about those, or the fact that privilege is often dependent on context.

    Probably not a coincidence that many of the worst Social Justice Warriors (I hate that term, but nobody has come up with a better one that’s stuck) come from very wealthy backgrounds. They have an arrogance that comes from growing up looking down on the “little people”.

    Saying that, I’ll still give Bahar Mustafa the benefit of the doubt that she’s merely unprofessional rather than the bigot she’s being made out to be. A lot of things she’s allegedly said do look like red flags, but lack sufficient context.

  6. Colum Paget says:

    Well, requires_hate was using a ‘#KillAllMen’ hashtag years ago, and I was struck that when #gamergate kicked off the people who thought #KillAllMen was hilarious were suddenly outraged over #KillAllFeminists.

    As for your point about the often very privileged backgrounds of Social Justice types, I agree and go further. I see this ideology as basically being a system of class warfare waged by the middle and upper classes against the working class. The major weapon that the working class (not so much working these days, let’s just call them ‘the underclass’) has is collective action. In a world where people have been taught to say “You’re white, so shut the fuck up” (direct quote from the comments here: http://skinseller.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/my-last-word-on-hugos.html) or where any man that expresses an opinion is ‘mansplaining’, no solidarity or collective action is possible. Society becomes atomized into warring cliques, but this is no loss for the middle and upper classes, who do not need solidarity, because they have money and good educations.

    Furthermore, Social Justice ideology pushes the fantasy that we live in a classless society. All that exists is race and gender, and as a white man I am considered to be on a par with David Cameron. I’ve time and time again had this discussion with ‘new left’ types, and they refuse to conceed that class even exists, saying “Men rule”, when the truth is that a tiny clique of upperclass men (and to a lesser extent women) rule. When Margret Thatcher was in charge, no-one thought this meant we lived in a Matriarchy, and it proved to deliver very little advantage to women, especially working class women. Thus, because it refuses to recognize wealth and class, ‘Social Justice’ is nothing more than a play by the upper classes to stuff power positions not only with their sons and friends from Eton, but also with their wives and daughters.

    Of course, they may not intend it this way, but that doesn’t matter. It’s outcomes that matter, and ‘Social Justice’ is going to have some very ugly outcomes if things continue as they have been.

  7. Colum Paget says:

    I agree with you that she shouldn’t have to leave her job, just as Irene Gallo should not have to lose her job: If speaking your mind can cost you your job, then only people who do not need to work will be free to speak their minds.

    However, the problem here is that a *lot* of people have lost their jobs because social-justice pitchfork mobs denounced them on twitter, and the political right are now adopting the same tactics. If one side does it, then the other side *has* to do it. The left are now increasingly going to learn the lesson that what goes around, comes around. I don’t see any practical way to climb down from this position, because the online left are completely unprepared to discuss, debate or compromise, and have serially disgraced themselves over issues like the reign of RequiresHate. People on both sides are becoming more and more radicalized, and I don’t see any way off the path that we’ve chosen.

  8. Colum Paget says:

    # Those advantages dont disappear just because some white men are as badly off as
    # everyone else the disproportionate number of white men in the wealthy elites

    They disappear for those white men who are as badly off as everyone else. Your thinking here is back-to-front. If power lay in the hands of a few women, while the rest of woman kind was starving in the streets alongside their men, it would be wrong to speak of ‘female privilege’. When the Normans held power in my country, the oppressed population would not have thought well of your argument that, as Norman men held power, who were white like the Anglo-Saxons they conquered, then white men held power, and there was nothing for them to be complaining about.

    In one sense the privilege argument does hold true: just about any white person is likely to have an easier time with the police, although I suspect even this is somewhat moderated by questions of class. But to equate the power elites of the western world with the white poor is as insane as claiming that Colin Powel or Condleeza Rice represent the sitatuation or opportunties enjoyed by all American black people.

    # In my experience killwhitemen or maletears are totally in-jokes used by people who
    # are sick of being characterised as fascists by sexists.

    In my experience they’re totally in-jokes by people pushing a fascist ideology of racial moral exclusion, (“There’s no such thing as racism towards whites”) who don’t want to be called for it.

    # That said, the point of in-jokes is that theyre funny to the in-group, and in the case
    # of these examples, specifically designed to piss off people who troll that in-group.

    Are you happy to extend that argument to gamergates ‘in jokes’ that had the form ‘#KillAllFeminists”. If you are, then fair enough, that’s a consistent position.

    Personally, I wouldn’t make jokes like that about anyone, even those who trolled me. RequiresHate trolled me, but I’ve never called for her murder, although I do think there is a case to be made that perhaps she should have to face the law for her actions, but I would only expect a mild sentence, and perhaps it’s still best not to go there (but others are being handed down sentences for trolling, so why not her?) But jokes about murdering anyone just aren’t funny.

  9. Colum Paget says:

    # Saying that, Ill still give Bahar Mustafa the benefit of the doubt that shes merely
    # unprofessional rather than the bigot shes being made out to be.

    I think she likely is a bigot, (dictionary definition: “a person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions.”) but the problem now is that everyone is a bigot. We’ve reached the point where the default position of most people on the left (not all, but most of the vocal ones) is to sling accusations of racism or misogyny at anyone, and to make decisions of right and wrong based mostly upon the race and gender of the actor. What was it that kept the SF community from seeing RequiresHate for what she was for so long? How have they managed to handle the Hugos quagmire as badly as they have?

    It’s somewhat unfair to pillory Ms Mustafa, or Ms Gallo, for doing something that everyone else is doing too. Futhermore, we have to recognize that Ms Gallo is working at a university, and our universities are teaching this kind of worldview, so what chance does she have really?

    We’re entering an age where there will only be bigotry, all politics will be bigotry, in part because of the frankly evil theory that’s been churned out by the achedemic left, and in part because extreme positions attract readers to one’s blog, and large numbers of readers is something that can be moneyterized through advertising. Thus, the internet age pays people to be bigots.

    In such an environment how can we blame people for being bigots? Especially the young, who have so little life experience and have to work very much with what they’re taught or told by others?

  10. Colum Paget says:

    And now I’ve moved my position. Reading more I’ve come around to thinking that she should lose her job. The reason is that she’s the ‘diversity officer’, and if she stayed it would effectively be sending the message that ‘diversity’ means ‘anti-white racism’, which many people would like to claim that it does. If you’re holding a position like this, you’re expected to meet a higher standard. And it’s not just the #KillAllWhiteMen thing, a type of mistake that a lot of people have made, it’s also that fact that she’s been calling people who’ve angered her “white trash”. Then she tried to defend all this with the standard “It’s not racism when I do it to whites” argument.

    It’s an ugly thing to have to say, but we’ve reached the point where this “it’s not racism when the target is whites” argument needs to be forcefully challenged, and I think that’s going to mean a few heads need to roll. Someone’s got to be first.

    Tim Hunt lost his job for statements that were inappropriate, but no-where near this hateful. If she were an editor like Irene Gallo, I’d be saying she shouldn’t have to lose her job, because her opinions aren’t relevant to the job. But when you’re holding a kind of political office, it’s different.

    There’s also the issue that the feminist left has used this ‘getting people fired’ weapon a lot. If someone’s using nukes, then everyone’s got to use nukes, in order to establish mutually assured destruction. Again, it’s not a particularly high-minded or generous sentiment, but it’s what the situation dictates.

  11. There are things our opponents do which we must not answer in the same way. At least two of them have to do with free speech and the free press:

    1. Don’t boycott publishers.

    2. Don’t try to get people fired for stating their beliefs on their personal sites.

    Authoritarians are authoritarians, even if they’re trying to force people to do and say everything you believe in.

  12. Tim Hall says:

    But both Irene Gallo and Tim Hunt said things in a professional context; on a Facebook page thread promoting a publisher’s book, and at a conference. Both deserved a repremand, neither deserve firing.

    The Tim Hunt affair is getting murkier by the minute. The way his wife has described the circumstances in which she said he was forced to resign is so far removed from the UCL provost’s version of events that one of the two must be lying. And there are two conflicting versions of the context of what he said at the conference and how it was received.

    There’s a lot that just doesn’t add up, and it all smells very fishy. My gut feeling is that there’s a lot of backstabby academic politics in play here; is somebody using the situation as an excuse to settle old scores?

  13. Colum Paget says:

    # There are things our opponents do which we must not answer in the same way. At
    # least two of them have to do with free speech and the free press:
    # 1. Dont boycott publishers.
    # 2. Dont try to get people fired for stating their beliefs on their personal sites.

    I largely agree with what you’re saying Will, but I feel Ms Mustafa is a special case. She is the student’s union diversity and welfare officer, yet she has apparently called people who angered her ‘white trash’, posted under a ‘KillAllWhiteMen’ hashtag, and banned whites and white men from certain events, making jokes about doing so with regard to ‘male tears’. She then tries to defend herself using the moral-exclusion “it’s not racism when I do it to whites argument”.

    More info here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/05/27/goldsmiths-student-diversity-officer-bahar-mustafa-keep-job_n_7452322.html

    It would appear that some of her behavior has not been on her personal site, but has been in her official capacity.

    The difference here is that I think all this demonstrates that Ms Mustafa is not competent to do her job. I wouldn’t trust her to look after my welfare if I were a student, would you? This is different from Ms Gallo, who apologised for her statement, which was probably made in the heat of the moment (Ms Mustafa is a serial offender) and who even Mr John C Wright agrees, continues to be very competent at her job as art editor regardless of her statements.

    There’s a further issue though, which is that ‘our opponents’ (I’m not sure what ‘side’ I’m signing up to in writing that though) are using these tactics to great effect, and this is having a profound chilling effect on people who disagree with them even speaking their mind. Opposing viewpoints are simply not being heard anymore, and part of this is because the online left has used repeatedly used the ‘nuke’ of getting people fired (or bullied into tears, or whatever). If your opponent uses a nuke, you have to use a nuke, in order to demonstrate to them the principle of mutually assured destruction. As long as they can use the tactic at no cost, they will, and eventually anyone who disagrees will be silenced for fear of losing their job.

    I don’t really like it, but it seems to me that if one side uses such tactics, and the other doesn’t, (assuming there are only two sides, I think there are many) then the side that doesn’t will be eradicated.

  14. Colum Paget says:

    # But both Irene Gallo and Tim Hunt said things in a professional context; on a
    # Facebook page thread promoting a publishers book, and at a conference. Both
    # deserved a repremand, neither deserve firing.

    I agree with this.

    # The Tim Hunt affair is getting murkier by the minute. The way his wife has
    # described the circumstances in which she said he was forced to resign is so far
    # removed from the UCL provosts version of events that one of the two must be lying.

    Maybe not. It could be ‘Rashomon effect’. Human beings are just not very good at remembering what happened, or even perceiving it accurately. Different people will notice different aspects of an event, and this can lead to them recalling very different things.

    # Theres a lot that just doesnt add up, and it all smells very fishy. My gut feeling
    # is that theres a lot of backstabby academic politics in play here;

    You say that like there’s another kind of achedemic politics ;-)

  15. Gallo was talking about her work, but wasn’t it on her own Facebook page? My suspicion is Tim Hunt was told it was better to resign than be fired. In both cases, a discreet talking-to by a higher-up was appropriate. All that publically needed saying was, “We value our employees for their work, not their opinions.”

  16. Colum, I hadn’t heard the “white trash” comment. “White trash” were believed to be lower than slaves in the Old South: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_trash#History The term is simultaneously racist and, to use a word I don’t like, classist. I do think people are right to ask the institution whether her opinions are likely to clash with her duties as a teacher, but it should be a question that doesn’t come with a threat.

    As for tactics, while the Allies were hardly saints during WWII (Dresden, Hiroshima, etc.), they were right to refuse to employ all the tactics of the Axis.

    Grinning at your comment about academic politics!

  17. Colum Paget says:

    # Colum, I hadnt heard the white trash comment.

    I’ve read it on a number of sites (the huffpost being one, I think) but I’ve just come across a site trying to make something out of the fact that she used images of women firing guns for her election campaign. I don’t think that’s really serious on it’s own. Maybe if those pictures were used in combination with the #KillAllWhiteMen hashtag, but I don’t think they were. I think this is a case of people trying to find more evidence, when they already have enough, and digging up stuff that’s not relevant. This makes me a bit sus of the ‘white trash’ comment, though I think the police are looking into it.

    # The term is simultaneously racist and, to use a word I dont like, classist.

    I actually increasingly like that word. Five, six years ago, I didn’t think class was a ‘thing’, now I pretty much think it’s everything. But I’m wary of getting too… starting to become one of *those* people.

    # I do think people are right to ask the institution whether her opinions are
    # likely to clash with her duties as a teacher, but it should be a question
    # that doesnt come with a threat.

    Thing is, she’s not a teacher, she’s a welfare officer. This means she’s supposed to be the person the students go to if they have certain types of problem. Someone is that role has to be above jokes about ‘male tears’.

    # As for tactics, while the Allies were hardly saints during WWII (Dresden, Hiroshima,
    # etc.), they were right to refuse to employ all the tactics of the Axis.

    This is true, but they only refused to employ those tactics that they didn’t need to win the war. The Nazis were doing a lot of bonkers things that weren’t really helping their cause, for instance switching from eliminating the RAF to attacking cities. Both sides ‘refused’ to use gas in WWII, mostly because gas was a troublesome weapon that could blow back onto your own lines if the wind was wrong. At the end of the day both sides did whatever it took to win, but the Axis powers did a few things that didn’t help them win.

    I think that events tend to develop their own dynamic once we’ve got down to the point where both sides are demonizing each other. In such a situation you have to do as the situation dictates. I think the only thing that will allow people to safely speak their mind without losing their job, will be knowing that the other side will do the same in return. Although perhaps that could result in everyone losing their jobs. It’s tough to know what to do, times is bad.

  18. The problem with “classist” is they use it to mean “class prejudice” while they use “racist” to refer to “institutional racism”, and it’d be nice if both words had the same implications. They mention class now and then, but it’s not really a concern of theirs—if it was, they would never use an insult like “white trash” and they would be advocating for things like Basic Income.

    As for tactics, I was thinking of the things that fell under the Geneva Convention. I keep thinking free speech is effectively part of the Geneva Convention of debate.

    But enough quibbling. I hear your concern, and I agree there are no easy answers.

  19. Colum Paget says:

    # The problem with “classist” is they use it to mean “class prejudice” while
    # they use “racist” to refer to “institutional racism”,

    Yeah, but that’s one of the reasons I no longer run with that crowd. Orwellian redefinitions of racism and sexism in order to allow them to attack whomever they want to attack are evil hypocrisy. This is what drove RequiresHate. Sooner or later this ideology is going to be used by some extremely bad people (if it isn’t already) as it can basically be used to justify anything.

    # and it’d be nice if both words had the same implications.

    Then don’t accept their change of the meaning. Next they’ll be redefining murder.

    # They mention class now and then, but it’s not really a concern of theirs—
    # if it was, they would never use an insult like “white trash” and they would be
    # advocating for things like Basic Income.

    Well, you’ve no doubt heard what I think about that. I consider “Social Justice” to be a weapon of class war. It destroys solidarity among the working class, and robs them of their only weapon: collective action. It’s splitting the working class vote, at least in the uk, by driving white men into the arms of UKIP. It denies the existence of privilege in terms of wealth and class background, claiming everything is gender and that ‘white men rule’, hiding the fact that actually a tiny minority of white men hold power, and their wives and daughters likely hold more power than a hundred white men from the working class. And look at who the SJW’s are, college-educated ‘activists’ who will one day hold jobs as bankers and journalists.

    # As for tactics, I was thinking of the things that fell under the Geneva Convention.
    # I keep thinking free speech is effectively part of the Geneva Convention of debate.

    But time and again we’ve seen SJW’s argue that ‘free speech’ only means protection from the government, not from the likes of them. Free speech is also not a concern of theirs. Have you seen what happened recently with the ‘honeybadger brigade’ of gamergate women at calgary comics expo? I don’t entirely trust the group, but it does seem they’ve been banned for speaking at a panel, and looking at the transcript of that panel, they didn’t do anything wrong that I can see. But as usual unnamed people said that the speech was ‘harrassing’, and so they’ve been banned from a wide range of comics expos in perpetuity.

    I’m thinking of donating to their legal fund. Are you aware of any reasons why I shouldn’t? Is there anything I don’t know about the situation?

    # But enough quibbling. I hear your concern, and I agree there are no easy answers.

    Unfortunately if your opponent uses underhand tactics, you often have to do the same. Although for me, I draw the line at death threats. I see Ms Mustafa claims to have been getting those, and I’m inclined to believe her. I’d like to see more prosecutions. But my problem is that I would expect this to just become another weapon, with people getting jailed if they issued a threat while being white, male, or right-wing, and people getting applause for the same. It’s difficult to be supportive of Ms Mustafa when it’s very obvious she wouldn’t be supportive of me.

  20. “Then don’t accept their change of the meaning.”

    I used “classism” for a while, but I went back to talking about class conflict instead, because it was easier to be clear. Unlike racism, classism’s a fairly new word, so its meaning isn’t precisely defined anywhere.

    I’ve read a little about the honey badgers, and I don’t know any reason not to support them if you’re tempted to. I’m really no expert, but they seem like an honorable group.

  21. Colum Paget says:

    # I used “classism” for a while, but I went back to talking about class conflict
    # instead, because it was easier to be clear. Unlike racism, classism’s a fairly
    # new word, so its meaning isn’t precisely defined anywhere.

    Thing is, ‘class conflict’ sounds like fisticuffs or revolution, whereas ‘classism’ is more suited to describing personal prejudice, like racism (because it’s *not* a system, it’s a thing individuals do).

    # I’ve read a little about the honey badgers, and I don’t know any reason not
    # to support them if you’re tempted to. I’m really no expert, but they seem
    # like an honorable group.

    Yeah, but then ‘progressive lefties’ seemed like an honorable group five years ago, and they’re been revealed to pretty much be spawn of satan, so how can I ever trust anyone again? And, of course, if I support the honey badgers, I’ll become a ‘gamergate supporter’, and thus be labelled as a rapist or something. I notice that very few people have had to carry-the-can for being ‘RequiresHate’ supporters. Perhaps I should just stop supporting Refuge and allout.org instead. After all, the person who put me onto allout.org was a close friend of RH, and might even have been part of RH.

  22. I liked “classism” when I first ran into it. Now I try to clarify it when I use it. It’s not useless; you just have to anticipate how the person you’re talking with will hear it.

    As for being betrayed by people we support, that’s a risk we have to keep taking. The alternative is to eat your soul.