‘Gender and Intersectionality’ Part VI – Whoppers



Reader, they buried me.

I could not log into the Facebook discussion group of the Massive Open Online Course ‘Gender and Intersectionality’ after I had written about its cult-like environment. I do not know whether they shut it down, or me out. I asked the Course Leaders, Giti Chandra and Thomas Brorsen Smidt, but received no reply or explanation. Still, I could follow the course and comment on its discussion board.

The next stage in the value-formation of a faction is artifice, flim-flam, porkies. Cherry-picking, to use an overworked but accurate description.

Ms. Chandra uploaded this:

‘But more recently, nationalist nostalgia has been much the news thanks to the many rightwing governments coming to power in the last few years, all promising a return to racial purity for their nations; and of course, the best known of these can be seen in the American Republican slogan, “Make America great again!” So a slogan like this hark back, of course, to some golden era in which the nation was the best that it could be, a faithful representative of the central ideals of its people. And of course, the first question then, is – what was this era? Exactly when was America great, and what were the ideals it fulfilled, and what must we do to make it great again? Well, if you were wondering what could possibly be the answers to these esoteric questions, a publication call (sic) The Crusader: The Political Voice of White Christian America! Which advertises itself further, as ‘The Premier Voice of the White Resistance’, gives us a very clear answer. “The short answer to that ”, it says, “is simple: America was great not because of what our forefather did, but because of who our forefathers were. America was founded as a White Christian republic, and as a white christian republic, it became great. ”Again, we can see that none of this is based on fact; what it is based on, is the sense of religious and racial purity. And clearly, one cannot maintain racial purity, literally or symbolically, without complete control over the sexual and reproductive rights of women. If the ‘resistance’ is valourised as ‘white’, then the supremacy of the white male is severely undermined by white women dating non-white men, and the fear of diluting the racial bloodline by introducing bi-racial children is obviously very real.’

Does this course really think that Trump wants a KKK Christian republic, I asked myself. So, I looked up the white Christian response and it took me five minutes to conclude this:

‘Yet again the course presents us with minimal data, lack of research and misinformation.

Take misinformation. Thomas Brorsen Smidt’s interpretation of Trump’s MAGA slogan. For some reason he presents it only in the light of what the KKK thought of it: a group of no more than 3-6,000 in a country of 328 million. He straw-mans Trump’s populist slogan as if it were a direct appeal to white supremacists.

The KKK wrote in reference to it, “While Trump wants to make America great again, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What made America great in the first place?’ The short answer to that is simple. America was great not because of what our forefathers did — but because of who our forefathers were. America was founded as a White Christian Republic. And as a White Christian Republic it became great.”

What was the Trump campaign’s reply? This. “The Trump campaign sharply and swiftly criticized the article. ‘Mr. Trump and the campaign denounces hate in any form,’ the campaign said in a statement Tuesday evening. ‘This publication is repulsive and their views do not represent the tens of millions of Americans who are uniting behind our campaign.’” The quote, extremely widely reproduced in the press, is the very next paragraph in the Washington Post Report, among many, from which Ms. Chandra quotes word-for-word from the KKK. This report appears in many newspapers and nearly all of them have the Trump campaign’s repudiation of KKK support.

Either Ms. Chandra and Mr. Smidt are very poor researchers or they are presenting an event in a politically-slanted way on what is supposed to be an academic course. The course does not even consider that Trump may mean something different with his slogan of ‘MAGA’. That is what an academic analysis would do.

As a matter of personal political preference, I have plenty of criticisms of Trump, and would never vote for him: but one’s criticism of him must be based on what is true. The example on the course fails that test.’

To be clear, it is almost impossible for the Course Leaders not to know that Trump’s campaign repudiated the KKK. The course reproduced the exact words of the KKK in a lengthy paragraph which appear in more than a handful of media. Nearly all of them carried in the next lines the Trump campaign disclaimer. That’s activism.

Image courtesy SitePoint

The rest of the module illustrated the Course Leaders’ unfamiliarity with statistics and reality, basically. Here is how:

‘We are then presented with a list of reactionary ideas which are supposedly on the rise. No data are produced to support that. So, let’s look at just 3 of the criteria.

Let’s take “The persistent desire for ‘purity’ of race”. Take the USA. In 1969, 17% of whites approved of marriage between blacks and whites: in 2013 that figure was 84% (https://ourworldindata.org/human-rights). In 44 years in USA whites the idea of mixed marriages became normalized. That is a revolution in ideas, unacknowledged by this course. It seems like it thinks we are in the 1950s.

Take the “normalization of violence”. In 1950, there were 546,000 global battle-related deaths in state-based conflicts: in 2016 there were 87,000. Since WWII in almost every category there has been a huge fall in the number of violent deaths Rather, peace is becoming normalized, not violence. (https://ourworldindata.org/war-and-peace).

Look at “the nostalgia, and need, for empire”. Here are the biggest blocks of respondents for each European country with a former empire. They are the percentages in which respondents said their empire was neither something to be proud of nor ashamed of: UK 37%, France 48%, Belgium 45%, Italy 41%, Spain 51%, Germany 40%. In Europe the overwhelming mood about the countries’ former empires is indifference with the exception of the Dutch. Here are the percentages of populations in a country who don’t want a return to Empire: UK 50, Netherlands 45, Belgium 52, Spain 62, France 59, Italy 71, Germany 66. All of these numbers are plurality majorities. (https://yougov.co.uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2020/03/11/how-unique-are-british-attitudes-empire). So no, there is little Europe-wide evidence of a resurgence in “nostalgia and need for empire”.

So again, we have poor research by the course, misinformation, slanted presentations and a paucity of data. You can’t ask the right questions if you don’t know something about what is actually happening in the world. That’s why this is not a serious academic course: it is activism which accuses the rest of academia of being that, when it is unaware of the beam in its own eye. How it got funded is a question which its university and the UN should answer for.’

‘Gender and Intersectionality’ Part V – Activism, not scholarship



After about two weeks of the Massive Open Online Course, ‘Gender and Intersectionality’ it was becoming clear what a poor course it was. Presented by Course Leader, Giti Chandra, and her Deputy, Thomas Brorsen Smidt whose most notable contribution to the Course’s Facebook discussion page was the uploading of a snarky meme defining mansplaining, it was beginning to make me feel more stupid.

But these people had UN funding. They must have passed some quality threshold on EdX to share a platform with Harvard, M.I.T., Berkeley and so on. Surely, they were saving their best till last?

The hole into which I dug myself deeper, courtesy YouTube.

Then Mr. Smidt posted this:

‘It seems that every year, more and more people realize that Columbus was a terrible person, who didn’t discover a thing, and that celebrating him is part of a broader cultural legacy of forgetting that which should be remembered. Happy belated Indigenous People’s Day.’

So, I replied:

‘What did Columbus discover? On his first voyage west, he found lands that Europeans had not seen before, the westward sea passage from Europe to North America and the best eastward passage back. Whatever you think of the map-maker/sailor these are momentous achievements. It is rather surprising that one has to explain to an academic these basic facts. But then it should be clear by now that intersectional studies are activism in the guise of scholarship.’

You can see that my patience was wearing thin. Then Ms. Chandra waded in with what amounts to a sideways reply to my post explaining the science of populations.  She wrote:

‘While Columbus Day and the legacy of Columbus is still a topic of discussion, I thought this speech would make for an interesting perspective. The context and speaker will be clear from the video. The whole speech is worth listening to, but the last one third (esp. from the 13.20 mark) is most germane to our course: for clarifying so definitively that the science of genetic diversity should never be confused with the cultural notion of race, etc., and especially not to justify race as a scientific category; and that all academic work is also activist, whether we recognize the connection or not.’

I have no idea how she thinks Columbus is linked to common-or-garden racism, but I could not let the last phrase go.

‘…all academic work is activism…’ I responded:

‘Some questions in response to your post. 1) Is Mathematics activism? If so, how? 2) What theory of knowledge have you developed which determines what is true in all the academic disciplines?’

A day later, I was not taking no reply for an answer, so I gilded the silly, whipping a line from Sam Harris. I wrote:

‘Ms. Chandra wrote, “…all academic work is also activist…” Here we have hit intersectional bedrock with the shovel of a witless statement. Giti has not responded, perhaps she will in a runic post with some new ascription of sexism or racism to people who disagree with her.

The idea that all academia is activist is at core the totalitarian method. Had she said that while training teachers, I would have shown her the door there and then if I had been the Headteacher. Is binomial theorem activist? Is the periodic table? Is conjugation of verbs? Is glaciology? Is musical notation? Would you want to measure schools by how well they do their activism? Who judges? Who determines the criteria? Who do you know so pure, so good as to entrust with that? In another context, I have seen this activism infect the training sphere: and it ended with my firm never using the training providers again. Because as often as not you will find trainers who don’t know what they are talking about, and in this case flat-out lying about her actions and trainees.

One may notice that all academia being activism is straight-up Maoism. This was the core idea behind the Cultural Revolution. Of course, that ended in purges of millions, of culture for wrong-think or wrong-being, the near ruin of the economy and Mao himself being side-lined by wiser minds. That’s because there is no end to a purge once it begins: it can destroy anything or anyone, even its progenitor. It is also the kernel of Nazi education policy: the antisemitic bowdlerizing of children’s fairy tales, the purge of Darwinist biologists and its replacement with Nazi creationist science. It is the reason for the commissar system in the USSR, the political heavy who infested every area of Soviet administration, thereby terminating initiative and growth: even Stalin had to get rid of that at the most perilous periods of WWII. If a teacher, worker, thinker or human is willing to let this little jackbooted Pecksniff install himself in the antechambers of his mind, he has given up his right to think and any idea of objective truth. The chemical composition of water is the same whether one is white, black, disabled, gay and any one of them could reproduce the experiment and it would always come up the same. There is no gay truth about water. Let’s stop pretending there is.

Intersectionality addresses real problems: inequality of outcomes. Who disagrees that black lives matter? Barely anyone. From that point of view, it is clever at branding itself and in inserting its believers into administrations such as HR and Diversity Boards to buttress the wound-collectors whose reaction to micro-aggressions should be micro-responses. Intersectionality is characterized mainly by performative outrage: today this is terrible, tomorrow, in twitter fashion, we will move onto the next dopamine hit of horror.

But a key feature is its lack of analysis and data, for the cause is assumed – systemic something.  This is the devil in the cult-like theogony of intersectionalism. So, one can post about trivial stories like Meghan Markle with loud and not very bright actual activists who con us into believing they are academics declaring that the UK was racist towards her. Look at the surveys on British attitudes towards her in 2018: it is overwhelmingly untrue.

I hope intersectionalism’s time will pass organically as the revolution really does eat itself. One can never be pure enough, one will always be told to apologize for a non-existent crime and it is a church in which you can never be forgiven. It is one of the worst ideas to have emerged, not modern, nor post-modern but pre-modern, with articles of faith, saints in the form of groups, heresies, the Savonarola of secularity.’

Thomas ‘Mansplaining’ Brorsen Smidt was gallant but not happy. He came back with:

‘Please keep in mind that this group has rules that everyone are expected to follow. You are free to comment, but you have to be kind and courteous as stated in rule #1. To use the phrase the “shovel of a witless statement” is really pushing it. Please review group rules carefully before commenting. Also keep in mind that you may ask questions but you are not entitled to answers. I encourage you to carefully consider what you are expecting to gain from this course and participation in group discussions.’

So, I mansplained back to him:

‘An academic once noted that it takes a second to propose flannel and hours to oppose it: only he used a more earthy term for “flannel”. True, I may not be entitled to answers but an academic is obliged to provide evidence. And we have seen none. Ms. Chandra proposes nothing less than the fictionality of one of the cores of civilization, the Academy. She has proposed no explanation except structural something or other. She has proposed no methodology except the lens of oppression and waves off other ways of looking at a subject as irrelevant. We have seen no hint of a sociological study, a consideration of the variables that cause a condition, of regression analysis or of a basic understanding of statistics. We have however been presented with a teen-mag-style questionnaire on the adolescent meme of ‘check your privilege’.

As regards being kind and courteous, I reproduce the Course leader’s first response to me on the course: “…perhaps you should go through the actual course material and get a sense of the larger ‘message’ that these women are trying to convey, instead of shooting the messenger and getting mired in ad hominem attacks.” You can see three things. First, mind-reading: she had no idea how much background material I had read. Second, the defense of three antisemitic women praised in your course materials. Third, the pivot to an attack on the student’s diligence.

Later she wrote to me, “…you could try and think about the ideas in this course instead of ideas in other courses and the people themselves…” This is extraordinary on an intersectionalist course for life itself is interdisciplinary: taken to its extreme her advice acts as a gatekeeper to the creation of a cult environment, of course.

Later she alleged the Mary Magdalen sinner/prostitute mistranslation idea from the Aramaic. I know that could not possibly be true, and she knows that I know that she knows it couldn’t be right. Because we discussed it. It really is alright to admit that one is wrong.

I intend to continue the course as intersectionality is such a widespread and influential idea. Just as I have studied the origins of Christianity and Islam, in neither of which I believe, so ought I to research intersectionality. Just as a biologist studies evolution by natural selection, it does not mean that s/he cannot be repelled by its waste and cruelty.’

An effort whose materials include hymns of praise for anti-Semites in ‘USA Today’, BuzzFeed teen-mag style questionnaires, US underground magazines, ‘Sex and the City’ critiques, science denial and indifference to when ideas arose in a ‘History of Ideas’ course. Enough. This is a scatter-gun Scheme of Study devised by an eighteen-year-old with wide cultural references, no coherent thesis, and a snippy inability to cope with disagreement.

I just knew I was about to be thrown off the course. After all, if all academics are activists, then so are Ms. Chandra and Mr. Smidt.

‘Gender and Intersectionality’ Part IV – Fear of Science



On to Science. In predictable fashion the Massive Open Online Course, ‘Gender and Intersectionality’ muscled in to science. So, I wrote this.

‘Here the Course Leaders hit the motherlode of intersectionality’s magical thinking. In 250 words they show how they deny the evidence of our own eyes.

They have three types of errors.

  1. Denial of the science

2. Unwitting belief that only science can determine our political and moral choices

3. The substitution of dogma for evidence-based policy decisions

Let’s take science denialism. They say, “…there is all this work out there that says that there is really no scientific basis for claiming that race exists as a category of distinguishing one kind of human being from another. That all it really amounts to is a multiplicity of physical features, that indicates a kind of superficial genetic diversity… Yes, race is a social and cultural construct. It is not, as you say, a real ‘thing’.”

This gets the science all wrong. Firstly, let’s define ‘race’. We can call them more accurately ‘populations’ or ‘ethnic groups’ limited, and this is crucial, by historical geographic isolation. The confusion (over what I will call ‘population’ from now on) derives from ‘Lewontin’s fallacy’. That is the observation about individuals within a population: that 85% of genetic variation can be found within individuals of that group, 8% within populations of a ‘race’ (white, black etc.) and 6% between ‘races’. There are 2 problems.

Lewontin used the wrong metric to compare within and between population diversity. He used a measure of differentiation which does not measure differentiation. Lewontin’s measurements can’t prove his conclusions: although they could in principle still be right. But his data are now out of date as we have new and better ones. The second issue is Lewontin’s method. He looked at each gene separately and then averaged the apportionment of variation among different genes. But frequency of alleles occurs at the same loci within populations. These frequencies differ from one population to the next. This ‘cluster analysis’ determines differences between populations. With this method one can determine to near 100% accuracy the geographical origins of an individual’s ancestors: and that is an ethnic group, population, race, whatever you want to call it.

And in fact, that is what science does. It can work out the different genetic ancestors of Cornwall and Devon natives, separated merely by a 30 metre-wide river. It can show how different populations have their own adaptive traits: to marine diet, lactose tolerance, malaria resistance, cholera resistance, arsenic-rich environments, cold climate, altitude, light skin pigmentation, short stature etc. Yes, these are all physical characteristics, but there is no reason why under natural selection, evolution should not select for psychological differences between populations since our brain itself is simply another locus for the operation of natural selection. And indeed, we do find hormonally-based behavioural and morphological differences at the level of the brain: we can hypothesize that they would also apply between different populations as well.

Now take the Course Leaders’ second mistake: to unwittingly say that only science should determine our political and moral choices. They say that race does not exist. The implication is that if it did, we would be obliged to act as if that alone should determine our policies with regard to race. This goes back to misunderstanding, probably borne of fear, of what science tells us. All it does is tell us what is true. It is not making any claim about the superiority, however one defines it, of one group over another: it merely locates differences at the cluster level. What it says about population differences should not matter morally. And this is where intersectionalists and critical race theorists go wrong: if the data contradict the ideology, then you have to deny the data. That is why you get the odd scientist, or science journalist more often, bullied by a hitherto obscure corner of academia, misrepresenting the state of the science to foreground a preferred moral outcome. If you do this, you are always open to being blind-sided by science. Imagine, if we had found not that northern Europeans have on average 2-3% Neanderthal DNA, but that sub-Saharan Africans do. Consider how that would nourish racist tropes about the latters’ primitiveness and savagery. If you think that the science should govern our conceptions and policies then you would have no defense against actual racists. We must remember that the science of populations merely shows our historical and evolutionary ancestry and that there is no evidence of the innate superiority or inferiority of one group over another. We don’t want our government to run by the laws of evolution by natural selection because, even though true, it is the most cruel and wasteful system one can imagine. We don’t use the science to determine our moral choices: for that we have to look elsewhere.

This brings us to the Course Leaders’ third mis-step: the replacement of evidence-based decision-making with dogma. It is common to scare-quote the science of population as ‘race science’, and indeed the actual scientists as ‘intellectual racists’. Heretics, if you like. The intersectionalist and critical race theorist typically bases his or her promotion of equality on there being no differences between populations. This is not true. If you base the desire for societal equality on this, then you lose the ideological underpinning for the desirable goal of equality. Yet, equality is not really intersectionalism’s aim: it is actually equity. Here’s their argument. Equality, in the sense of equality of outcomes, is impossible because systemic power makes it so. What we need are equitable adjustments and equality of access to produce equality of outcomes. Here are the problems with that. Social Justice, as opposed to social justice, oversimplifies what it calls the systemic power dynamic as it applies to demographic groups assumed to be monolithic in condition and wants. It also exaggerates the pervasiveness of systemic power while ignoring progress which has been made. Too, it rejects criticism, often simply calling people names: ‘check your privilege’, ‘white supremacy’, ‘scientific racism’, ‘sexist’ etc. This is the creation of a church which patrols its congregation against sin and wrong-think. One can only criticize with reference to the theories embedded in critical theory. It is its own world-view: for the critical theorist, no evidence from outside it can disprove it. One simply needs to ask of him/her the question, ‘What evidence would convince you that morphological and behavioural differences exist between populations?’ You will not get a reply, because for them there cannot be an evolutionary explanation for those differences. Like theology, this is the definition of dogma.

To conclude, we have a previously-ignored niche area in the academy spreading into and intimidating fields about which it knows nothing. It has a strong ideological presence across opinion-formers, media, celebrities, politicians, cultural commentators and, worst of all, in STEM fields. It probably has a tiny following among the wider population. While being an anti-rationalist, science-denying project it unwittingly leaves itself open to a charge that racism would be “scientifically right”. It is a dogma, as shown when one challenges its promoters on their most profoundly-held beliefs: the in-group out-group hostility is palpable.


Coyne, J. ‘Genetic ignorance in the service of ideology’, ‘”Why Evolution is true”, blog, April, 2020’.

Fumagalli et al. ‘Greenlandic Inuit show genetic signatures of diet and climate adaptation’, ‘Science 2015’.

Gerbaut et al. ‘Evolution of lactase persistence: an example of human niche construction’, ‘Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 2011’.

Guo et al. ‘Genetic bio-ancestry and social reconstruction of racial classification in social surveys in the contemporary United States’, ‘Demography, 2014’.

Ilardo et al. ‘Physiological and Genetic Adaptations to Diving in Sea Nomads’, ‘Cell, Vol. 173, Issue 3, 2018’.

Jablonski & Chaplin. ‘The colours of humanity: the evolution of pigmentation in the human lineage’, ‘Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 2017’.

Janicke et al. ‘Darwinian sex roles confirmed across the animal kingdom’, ‘Science Advances, 2016’.

Jost, L. ‘Gst and its relatives do not measure differentiation’, ‘Molecular Ecology 17, 2007’.

Leslie et al. ‘The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population’ ‘Nature, 2015’.

Lewontin, R. ‘The apportionment of human diversity’, ‘Evolutionary Biology, 1972’.

Mayr, E. ‘Animal Species and Evolution’, Harvard University Press, 1963.

Ousley et al. ‘Understanding race and human variation: Why forensic anthropologists are good at identifying race’, ‘Physical Anthropology, 2009’.

Perry et al. ‘Diet and the evolution of human amylase gene copy number variation’, ‘Nature Genetics, 2007’.

Risch et al. ‘Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease’, ‘Genome Biology, 2002’.

Rosenberg et al. ‘Genetic structure of human populations’, ‘Science 298, 2002’.

Rosenberg et al. ‘Clines, clusters, and the effect of study design on the inference of human population structure’, ‘PLOS Genetics, 2005’.

Scheinfeld & Tishkoff, ‘Living the high life: high altitude adaptation’, ‘Genome Biology, 2010’.

Schlebusch et al. ‘Human Adaptation to Arsenic-Rich Environments’, ‘Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2015’.

Schmidt, David P. ‘Sex differences in brain and behavior: eight counterpoints’, ‘Psychology Today, 2019’.

Spencer, Q. ‘A radical solution to the race problem’, ‘Philosophy of Science, Vol. 81, No. 5, 2014’.

Tang et al. ‘Genetic structure, self-identified race/ethnicity, and confounding in case-controlled association studies’, ‘The American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol. 76, Issue 2, 2005’.

Tishkoff et al. ‘Strength in small numbers’ ‘Science, 2015’.

Winegard, Bo et al. ‘Human Biological and Psychological Diversity’, ‘Evolutionary Psychological Science, 3, 2017’.’

This little essay, which produced no written response from the Course, was further informed by ‘Superior: The Return of Race Science – A Review’ by Bo Winegard and Noah Carl.

‘Gender and Intersectionality’ Part III – Making stuff up



I did not expect the Pinocchio pivot from the Course Leader of the EdX ‘Gender and Intersectionality’ Massive Open Online Course, but that is what happened. She, Giti Chandra, must not have imagined that a student would spot a very obscure piece of flannel of hers, but she just kept on going: and never acknowledged that she was just making things up. Here is how it came about.

In her course material, Ms. Chandra presented us with, “When we note that today, women seem to be pushed further into the binary of being either ‘good girls’ or ‘sluts’, then it is as well to remember that the tradition of the two Marys in the Bible – the mother of God, and the prostitute – are a binary that has saturated cultural traditions and percolates down to us in the present.”

3 Lessons from the Life of Mary Magdalene | Jesus Film Project

Mary Magdalene, Bee Gees backing singer, courtesy jesusfilm.org

I responded:

‘…Neither is Mary Magdalene called a prostitute in the New Testament: it presents her mainly as a repentant sinner. It was only in the C6th CE that the Pope labelled her a repentant prostitute and not until the Middle Ages did the idea really take hold…’

Ms. Chandra replied:

‘As for Mary as sinner/prostitute, there are various translations of the original Aramaic term, and in fact, there are various interpretations of whether in fact, she was either. However, much later commentary seems to reach the consensus of Mary as prostitute. I hope that either of these points has not distracted you from the one that this part of the course is actually making.’

I answered:

‘I don’t know why you discuss the Aramaic for sinner/prostitute. The New Testament is written in Koine Greek. As for prostitute that just isn’t in the NT. To be entirely accurate, Mary Magdalene was described by Luke & the longer recension of Mark (an interpolation) as having Jesus rid her of demons – a common trope indicating sinfulness. Matthew and John don’t mention this. So, we have 4 different very early Christians presenting at least 4 slightly different versions of MM.’

Ms. Chandra fired back:

‘large chunks of the New Testament are based on Aramaic source texts, including much of the four gospels. The NT itself, as a composite text, is compiled much later. Hence my noting the many translations and changing of hands of the text as it comes down to us in English – and when i say english, i mean the King James version that i am familiar with, although, as you know, there are many others.

I wonder if you actually got the point the course was making, though. Fascinating as the details and specifics that you debate here are, they are not the main point the course is trying to make.’

I replied:

‘I’m sorry, Gita, I am perfectly aware of the aims of the course but these details matter. There is little chance that your comment that “as for Mary as sinner/prostitute, there are various translations of the original Aramaic term…” has anything to do with Koine Greek NT pericopes of Jesus casting out 7 demons from her. The vocabulary is totally different. If there was a lost Aramaic source alleging it, the NT writers definitely did not even hint that MM was a prostitute. They didn’t use it. For Luke she was a demoniac. …that idea developed, as I originally said, with the Pope in the C6th CE. Sure, we can discuss the significance and influence of MM as the template slut, but it does matter when, where and through whom the idea arose, gained height and fell.’

That is how it ended. I found it hard to believe that a MOOC Course Leader would try to pass what looks like sound research to anyone who does not know much about the New Testament (Aramaic behind the Greek – partially true, but flannel: lots of translations into English of the NT – almost wholly irrelevant: late compilation of the NT – true but largely immaterial to the point she was trying to make). In short, it looks erudite but it is bullshit.

Intersectionalism is basically an extended exercise in gaslighting, making you question what you know to be true. So, I thought I had better double-check. I asked Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the world’s experts on the first few centuries of the Christian era, “…I know about the Pope’s C6th ascription of prostitution to Mary Magdalene. I had a tutor on a course saying that the tale comes from a mistranslation of the Aramaic into Koine Greek. Looking at the NT pericopes which mention her, I cannot see how that could possibly be true. Was my tutor wrong and my instinct right?” Here is his response, “Hmmm… I’m afraid I don’t know what (s)he’s talking about!”

Neither did Ms. Chandra. As for Mary Magdalene, she repented. And for me, I am so relieved not to view women as either good girls or sluts. I never knew I did. A Damascene conversion if you like.

‘Gender and Intersectionality’ – Part II. Its antisemitism problem



My second piece on the ‘Gender and Intersectionality’ Massive Open Online Course from the University of Iceland is about its antisemitism, or if you are being generous, its disregard for it.

Here are my replies, and those of the Course Leader Giti Chandra to me, on the course material from USA Today ‘What is intersectional feminism? A look at the term you may be hearing a lot’ by Alia E. Dastagir. The conversation took place over two threads and it is tricky to reconstruct who said what when. I have tried to put it in the correct order and it represents, I think, a fair summary of the back-and-forth. Dastagir’s piece praises Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, leaders of the 2017 Women’s March.

StoreFront – USA TODAY Online Store

‘USA Today’: ‘Gender and Intersectionality’s’ course material, courtesy onlinestore.usatoday.com

My reply:

‘Ms. Dastagir provides us with a definition: “intersectional feminism is the understanding of how women’s overlapping identities…impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.”

She does not explain why those identities should solely be viewed through the lens of oppression…

Consider the many ways one can look at a group, apart from Ms. Dastagir’s 2 criteria. Usefulness, cultural intrigue, love, pity, admiration, curiosity, worship, politeness, deference, disdain. There are many more. Why cauterize the lens through which one looks at it merely to one category, oppression? This is begging the question: you have inserted the answer before you’ve posed the query.

Here is the second difficulty with the definition. It accepts as true the experience of the recipient, hence why we get nowadays the clichéd repetition of the tautologous ‘lived experience’. Yet the object of the aggression is, at the best, the second most reliable observer of it: s/he who knows most about it is the giver of that interaction. S/he knows absolutely his or her intentions: the receiver infers it. And may guess wrongly. In fact, we know that the easiest person to fool is yourself.

That is why we have science, social science and psychology to try to extrapolate what is true, in order to overcome our own biases. And this is a big problem for intersectionality, for it privileges the individual sense, which may be wrong. It asserts that my knowledge is objective knowledge and therefore true. Objectively, Kimberlé Crenshaw, scion of a high-performing US school, double-degree & graduate of the number one university in the world, Harvard, is one of the most privileged humans who has ever existed: objectively, white working-class English boys are the worst performing of all class and ethnic groups in the U.K. In the latter case the schematic theory of intersectionality simply breaks down and substitutes and elegizes assumed disadvantages for what actually happens.’

I then produced a second response to Ms. Dastagir’s article.

‘Ms. Dastagir writes, “A white woman is penalized by her gender but has the advantage of race. A black woman is disadvantaged by her gender and her race. A Latina lesbian experiences discrimination because of her ethnicity, her gender and her sexual orientation.” These are hypotheses and remain the thing to be proved or falsified. We are not told where or when she is talking about. Neither do we know who is doing the penalizing, whether it is deliberate or accidental, what that persecution, if it exists, entails nor its degree. Her propositions are all very vague and probably intentionally so.

Ms. Dastagir then praises the early leaders of the Women’s March. Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez both have credible allegations against them of antisemitism. Ms. Mallory, in particular is a shady character: she calls the notorious antisemitic fraudster Louis Farrakhan (who can be seen online virtually admitting to murdering Malcolm X) the greatest of all time.

It is difficult to know where to start with the egregious islamist Linda Sarsour: she said that a victim of Islamic FGM did not have the right to her own vagina, praises reactionary imams, was accused of enabling sexual harassment of one of her own employees, celebrated a murderer of policemen and is of course antisemitic.

We have further allegations from insiders in the Women’s March of mismanagement of funds. These three leaders personify a tendency among unexamined left-field organizations such as the Mafia, the IRA and the Stax Records distribution network, the degeneration into racketeering, violence and corruption. The last people we need to see as role-models are these three deeply flawed individuals.’

Ms. Chandra’s reply:

‘perhaps you should go through the actual course material and get a sense of the larger “message” that these women are trying to convey, instead of shooting the messenger and getting mired in ad hominem attacks.’

My reply:

‘I assure you that I have read the course material and done a lot of background research in response. You will see that my piece is my second response to Ms. Dastagir’s article: in the first I critiqued her definition of intersectional feminism. I have no problem with the initial concerns of the Women’s March.

You accuse me of ad feminam attacks. I do not normally engage in them, but in this case it is necessary. You will note that the part of the original article to which I replied is an ad feminam hymn in praise to the 3 women I mentioned. So, ad feminam responses seem appropriate. I am perfectly willing, if you wish, to provide links to all the examples I gave of the 3 women’s antisemitism.

Fresh from a MOOC by Yad Vashem on antisemitism, I had already concluded that antisemitism is the most ancient, most geographically widespread, most protean, most multi-sourced and most lethal of all bigotries. You will find it from right to left, in most major religions and even in countries where there are no Jews. It is a conspiracy theory and, as Christopher Hitchens said, the sure sign of a diseased mind. So, we should bear in mind Bertrand Russell’s observation on the assumed superior virtue of the oppressed: it is not always true.

We know that the 3 women believe in the antisemitic conspiracy theory. This makes us wonder what other conspiracies they believe in and what their epistemology is. How do they determine what is true and untrue? This is not a mind-set which promotes conversation based on reason and what we all can agree is true. If the public discourse cannot fix the truth of a proposition then it cannot progress. I had rather thought that given what we know now about the beliefs and behaviour of Mallory, Sarsour and Perez you would have considered revising your view of the leaders of the March and adjust your course materials accordingly.’

Gita Chandra’s reply:

‘it’s easy to get side tracked into other things that interest one, but I think the focus of this course and group is on gender and not anti-semitism. You would get more out of this course if you stuck to the views expressed re gender by these women and less on their other views or the women themselves.’

My reply:

‘…In response to my post supporting the Women’s March and opposing antisemitism, you said words to the effect that I was not interested in or concerned about gender or race…

This is the relevance of the antisemitism of the 3 women we are discussing. We know now that the purveyors of intersectional feminism have in fact created a hierarchy of oppression from which Jews are excluded. Imagine if these women, gifted in some of the skills of politics, become a dominant strand in a successful political party. They will promote policies which they think render more equal certain groups, but given their ab initio prejudice against Jews will persecute them as state policy.

Here’s the problem: we do not know what the end-game of an intersectionalist and critical race theorist government is nor the data which tell us that its goals have been achieved. If there were, is it likely that only then would that government turn around and say it was unfair to the Jews and atone for its past ideas and behaviours? Highly likely not.

This hierarchy itself is the problem and its natural corollary is to split one group over another within the movement over a grab for power: conflict over intersectionality itself, if you like. Most people, I would say, are not willing to suspend their critical faculties and ignore the antisemitism within some feminist intersectional circles.’

Gita Chandra’s reply

‘…if you have decided that the theory of gender and intersectionality is fatally flawed because you have decided that some of its purveyors are anti semitic then it seems to me that you have a choice to make which you should exercise: 1 you can remain stuck in this position and not move on to the rest of the course to see if your ideological horizons can be expanded, or 2 you could try and think about the ideas in this course instead of ideas in other courses and the people themselves, go through the rest of the material in the course and maybe add to your store of ideas.

Either way, I wish you luck.’

My reply:

‘…It should be fairly clear to you that I am engaging in the course. And if you look in the Course Discussion section you will see that. A student is not obliged to agree with his or her teacher: but they should point out inconsistencies in theory and research. Likewise as a teacher myself I know that it is not my job to advocate for an ideology: it is to explore it.’

Her reply:

‘I understand. Any teacher worth her salt encourages dissent and discussion. My concern with your points of dissent is that they are tangential to the ideas the course investigates and actually prevent you from engaging with those ideas. My suggestion would be for you to maybe move on from this point and come back to it when you’re further along in the course.’

That was the end of it. And the course did not address antisemitism again. So Ms. Chandra did not consider retracting a course material praising the three antisemitic leaders of the Women’s March.  This was worrying: “…you could try and think about the ideas in this course instead of ideas in other courses…” Pastor Jones and the Scientologists would agree. This, and sorry to use the cliché, is the creation of a cult.

‘Gender and Intersectionality’ – how to get thrown off a Massive Open Online Course, Part I


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This is the first of several pieces about the EdX Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) ‘Gender and Intersectionality’, devised by Giti Chandra and Thomas Brorsen Smidt of the University of Iceland. I followed the course from October 1st this year, thinking I should finally find out the ideas first-hand. It was easily the worst MOOC I have ever followed, and I studied ‘Islam through its Scriptures’ by Harvard.

I will show my replies to the MOOC’s materials in chronological order. It will show the Course Leaders’ rather sharp responses and defensiveness when I criticize the work. Although they throw contentiousness into the culture, they really do not like being challenged, as I hope I will show. I would ask them to comment on this series, but they eventually blocked me from the Facebook discussion group without explanation: they failed to reply to my email asking why.

Here is my reply to one of the first course resources, Kimberlé Crenshaw, ‘On Intersectionality’.

Kimberlé W. Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw: widely credited with inventing the term ‘Intersectionality’. Photo courtesy brookings.edu

‘Ms. Crenshaw gives a brief outline of injustices committed against black American women after the U.S. Civil War with particular reference to voting rights. Unfortunately, she does not answer the question. The nearest she comes is, “structural intersectionality (is) the collision of 2 overlapping dynamics of oppression”. If we are to extrapolate some definition, we can say that intersectionality is bound up with oppression. But she does not explain why a view of a certain group – race, religion, sex etc. – should necessarily involve oppression: it could after all involve love, compassion, indifference, respect, colour-blindness, positive discrimination and so on.

She is right that black U.S. women suffered racism & the dismantling of democratic rights. I find that she gives little historical context. The movement for any women’s suffrage in the U.S. in 1865 was tiny. Yes, Reconstruction saw a split in the emerging women’s movements along class and racial lines but she is just wrong to say, “…black women won nothing when women won the right to vote”. When the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, all women in California, New York and Illinois could vote. Yes, black women’s right to vote in the South was stolen, but that was illegal, even at the time. There was far less robbery of black women’s suffrage in the north after 1920. Historical accuracy is important and Ms. Crenshaw’s rhetoric looks more like activism than a serious attempt to grapple with the messiness of what happened.

She has 2 characteristic ways of speaking which, I submit, reveal a surface approach to history. The first is her regular use of the passive voice: “it was argued…” “had been seen as…” There are many examples. Who argued? How influential were they? Who saw? How many saw? This reveals, I think, her view that history has inevitable outcomes. She does not, perhaps because of lack of time, go into details about, say, the nuances of the debates between Lincoln and Douglass. Yet those discussions are a way-marker for where we are now. What is important is not only what people think, but how they think.

This leads us to Ms. Crenshaw’s second typical lexical tic: her use of abstract nouns. She routinely concludes her peroration on past wrongs by ascribing the cause to patriarchy or white supremacy, perhaps even structural violence. Yet these are not explanations: she does not go into detail about why this person thought that. She thinks in terms of categories, ascribes to them herd-ideas, and the individual has disappeared from this explanation of history. She says, “African-American men weren’t any better…” All of them? This simply cannot be true.’

I added a further criticism.

‘Ms. Crenshaw covers a lot in this speech so I will respond to recent history. She queries why Obama launched the ‘My Brother’s Keeper Alliance’ aimed at black boys, asking why not the girls. Perhaps a reason would be the disparity between educational outcomes for the 2: girls at the higher end achieve up to 25% better than boys. She does not refer to that. Mysteriously, she mentions “the unleashing of the police force”, “patriarchy enhancement” and claims, “we are a gender- and race-based unequal society”. This is a peculiar observation to make in light of U.S. black girls’ better performance than black boys in education.

Ms. Crenshaw then maintains that state violence replicates home violence, citing the Holtzclaw case, a white-Japanese cop who killed black women. That case is very unusual in that it involves cross-racial crime. Holtzclaw was convicted. So, we can’t say that this is state-sanctioned violence.

Ms. Crenshaw, warming to her theme, talks about “killed driving while black”, “police shoot first ask questions later…”, “we don’t talk about…” and the obscure “she (Natasha McKenna) doesn’t fit the picture of a victim of state-sanctioned violence…” These are all assertions for which she does not provide evidence. Is it most likely that Maya Hall was killed for being black? In this age of terrorism Maya drove into the NSA area, and appears to have not complied with security calls to stop: she doesn’t know why Maya Hall was killed and neither do I; but there is a lot of other variables to consider before concluding that it was a racist murder. Would the same have happened if Maya Hall were white?

Ms. Crenshaw is concerned with narratives and her template is that some form of U.S. state-sanctioned violence is being conducted against black men and women. Here are the facts. About 1,000 people per year are killed by U.S. cops. 80-90% of those are justified as the subject is armed and dangerous. In recent years 15-30 or 40 unarmed black people are killed by cops. In 2016-17-18 more white unarmed people were killed by cops than blacks. Some, in both categories, are murder. Blacks are 14% of the U.S. population but 25% of those killed by cops are black. Blacks are over-represented among criminals e.g. 50% of homicides are committed by blacks. So, in the 50-60 million interactions per year between police and suspects, police are statistically more likely to come into contact with blacks. Statistically, blacks are slightly less likely to be killed by cops than whites adjusting for total number of interactions. Yes, there are cases of unjustified shootings and police can get off scott-free.

Black and Hispanic cops are slightly more likely to kill black and Hispanic suspects than white cops. This is in the context of overall declining violence over 30 years: in L.A. for example, 2019 marked a 30 year low for police shootings. We should remember these persons’ names in these terrible cases of cop killings but Ms. Crenshaw’s claim that “we don’t talk about…” is wide of the mark. For every famous black death at the hands of cops, as John McWhorter has pointed out, we can find a white person killed in very similar fashion: black John Crawford vs. white Daniel Shaver, white Michael Parker vs. black Walter Scott. Usually, the black person is more reported than the white.

What follows? First of all, in a gun society like the U.S.A., when a cop asks you to do something, comply even when you know you are innocent. That cop has a very real fear that you may pull a gun on him/her. The time to complain is later. We do not have the evidence that the state is “unleashing the police force” on black Americans. Yes, there is a severe problem of trust between a minority of blacks and the police in certain areas but this will not be solved by assumptions of systemic police violence contradicted, or at least not shown, by the evidence.’

The Course Leader, Giti Chandra, responded peevishly to my first 2 posts on the course.

‘I strongly recommend you go through the rest of the course material and see if your ideological antagonism to the reality of race and gender discrimination is not met or answered adequately. I can’t see that anyone on this group is really up for putting in the kind of labour involved in providing you with the very obvious counter arguments and facts that your responses need and it is not my or Thomas’s place to do that. I thought my lengthy response to your earlier comment might have helped but it doesn’t look like you’re actually willing to put in the labour of understanding what this course is all about.’

So if no one else wants to put in their time and effort here, I would seriously evaluate what you want from this course.’

I responded with this.

‘What Giti did not know – and how could she?- was that I had spent probably hours looking up every death which Ms. Crenshaw mentioned. And arriving at conclusions. My problem in composing my response was not too little data, but too much: and the attempt to edit down a long piece. Hence the mention of only one of the deaths, to serve as an example. I find that in discourse it always best to take a charitable view of a person’s bona fides, admit that you don’t know something and never to allege something you cannot know: until the evidence shows otherwise. No productive conversation can take place without them.’

This was not a good start from her. And it was going to get worse.

The European Court of Human Rights backs blasphemy laws

Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that defaming the Prophet Muhammad “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace”. This, according to the Turkish Anadolu Agency. The case arose as a response to an Austrian woman claiming “that Muhammad had pedophilic tendencies”.


Mohammed and his wife A’isha freeing the daughter of a tribal chief. From the “Siyer-i Nebi. (14th century) In the Topkapi Palace Library, Istanbul. Courtesy: http://zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/islamic_mo_face_hidden/


Of course, the ECHR has now inserted a blasphemy clause into European culture just as Eric Idle’s “Always look on the bright side of life” becomes the most popular song at funerals in the U.K. One does not hear of many Christians nowadays, unlike Malcolm Muggeridge, complaining that the ditty goes beyond the limits of discussion: still, the votaries of Islam seem to think that it is special and its omnipotent god warrants protection against naughty schoolboy humour.

Even if the Austrian woman were wrong about Muhammad, surely she should have the right to say it and we could have a good barney about the sources in Islamic literature. One problem is she is actually right. I have written about Islam’s attitude to women here. So, it is not surprising to discover the catalogue of Muhammad’s relations with his 17 wives does not reflect well on the man.

Let us look at Muhammad’s wives, via wikiislam through Islamic sources, and whether they were “widows and divorced women who had no means to survive on their own” as Islamic apologetics often tells us. We see, first of all, 17, not 11, wives as the tradition normally has it. The list below omits the 2 most famous, Khadija and Aisha, and includes a concubine.

Sawdah bint Zamaa (married in 620) was a tanner and perfume-mixer. Hafsah bint Umar, who could write, could easily have earned a living. Or her father, one of the richest Qurayshi men, could have kept her. Zaynab bint Khuzayma had many male relatives who could and did look out for her in the 7 months between her widowhood and marriage to Muhammad. Hind bint Abi Umayya was a tanner and evidently reluctant to remarry: one can assume that she thought she could earn a living.

Zaynab bint Jahsh gave away all her profits from her leather-craft job in alms. Rayhanah bint Zayd was a poor widow, because Muhammad had killed her husband and appropriated her property. Juwayriyah bint Al-Harith also had her husband killed by Muhammad’s troops: yet, she was rich and Muhammad declined the ransom offered by her father. Ramlah bint Abi Sufyan shows no signs of being destitute: she came with a huge dowry of 400 dinars.

Safiyah bint Huyayy was a widow because Muhammad had killed her husband and expropriated her wealth. Maymunah bint Al-Harith was the guest of her brother-in-law, a banker, and one of the richest of his tribe: she was comfortably off. Mariyah bint Shamoon was an Egyptian slave whom Muhammad could have sent back to Egypt: instead he used her as a concubine, to the evident distress of his official wives. Mulaykah bint Kaab, whom Muhammad divorced after a few weeks, received a marriage offer from someone else. This indicates that she was not at destitution’s door.

Fatima bint Al-Dahhak, the daughter of a minor chief, had not been poor. Divorced quickly by Muhammad, she subsequently eked out a living as a vendor of camel-dung. Asma bint Al-Numan was a wealthy Yemeni princess. Amrah bint Yazid was divorced on the first day. Tukanah al-Quraziya was a Qurayza POW: her poverty was caused by Muhammad killing its men and confiscating their property. A’isha and Khadija were of course famously well-off.

Of note is that the vast majority of the claims derives from the earliest references to Muhammad’s life, albeit that they are about 150 years after his traditional death. Nevertheless, the hagiographic source tells us that the community from which it came approved of this behaviour.

The Austrian woman claimed that Muhammad showed paedophilic tendencies towards A’isha, to whom he was betrothed when she was six years old and the marriage consummated when she was nine. Sahih Bukhari, commonly called the most reliable hadith in Muslim circles, tells us that. Here it is:

Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64:

Narrated ‘Aisha:

that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).

This had barely been controversial in Islamic history until critics of Islam pointed it out and as usual with Muslim apologetics one can find whole websites devoted to denying the plain writing on the page. Perhaps this would not matter if ordinary Muslims did not habitually and vehemently repeat the denial in public conversations: now it seems that their upset trumps any claim, right or wrong, that one can make about Muhammad’s morals.

The ECHR’s ruling is a dreadful day for freedom of expression, and woefully ignorant of the facts. It has handed the censor’s veto to those with the morals of Tamerlane and the tech nous of Steve Jobs.

Was Islam ever progressive?

Muslim apologists often claim that the Koran is progressive for women: the fall-back position is that it was a step forward for its time. Neither assertion bares scrutiny. Aside from the fact that it is anachronistic to speak of the seventh century Mediterranean basin and the Middle East in terms of progressiveness and regressiveness, we can at least look at the history and the theology of the question.

To assert the “sanctity and beauty of marriage in Islam”, as a fellow scholar of the Koran once said to me, is to substitute the wish for the facts. The Koran recommends the social immuring of women. 24:31 tells them to “lower their gaze” and “not reveal their adornment” and 33:53-5 orders them to be screened off except to family and slaves. Islamic women are enjoined not even to make eye contact with men who are not relations. It says women are worth less than a man in inheritance (4:11), court testimony (2:282), unclean (5:6), available to men for sex at any time (2:223), unequal in marriage (4:3), used as a means to demean much like the word “bitch” (53:27), sex slaves (33:50), to be scourged by husbands (4:34), subject to instant divorce (Sahih Muslim 9:3493), subject to men (Koran 66:5) and mathematically unequal to men in Islam’s toleration and promotion of polygamy. If this is the best of all possible worlds for women, what are the others like?

The position of women in nearby and previous societies resembled the Koran’s strictures a lot. But to privilege these man-made sanctions as in any way exceptional or tending towards their own abolition is simply ahistorical.

My same interlocutor claimed that the Koran encourages monogamy. Once I had retrieved my jaw from the floor, I noted that it merely states that a man should settle for one wife if he cannot be just to the others. This is a last resort. And the same verse casually allots that man’s right to take slaves as “wives”. We would accurately call the latter a sex slave. So, we have no evidence that polygamy was to be restricted, nor that it was to be gradually phased out.

We have our first record of monogamous societies from archaic Greece and the early Roman period, up to 1,400 years before Islam. Monogamy may even pre-date those polities. Yet, effectively polygynous relationships occurred, like in Islam, with the man’s slaves, although these affairs, viewed as non-adulterous, were criticized heavily by Stoic philosophers. So, we have thinkers from far earlier than Islam and Christianity who actually did posit the equality of the sexes in the Greek Cynics and Stoics up to 800 years before the rise of Islam. Given that, to ascribe progressivism to early Islam would be attractive and agreeable but it does not comport with the facts.

Alexandrian family

Medallion of an Alexandrian family in Roman Egypt, ca. 3rd-4th century. Pic courtesy Wikipedia.


Jesus seems to have discussed divorce in an environment in which monogamy was the agreed norm and the roughly contemporaneous Essenes also advocated monogamy. There is no record of early Christians in the NT being polygamous, yet divorced women were anathematized by Jesus according to Matthew 5:32. The early Church Fathers often recommended chastity, and held to monogamy as a hold-over from Greco-Roman customs. We have a record of a Jewish woman initiating divorce against her husband in the second century of the Common Era. In 393 CE, the Christianized Roman state forbade Jews from entering into several marriages at the same time. Early Islam was both more and less “progressive” than Christianity. So again, we have Islam being at the back of the class in at least two cases vis-à-vis the older monotheisms: in its attitude towards polygamy and towards the right of a woman to divorce.

The spirit and teachings of Islam are entirely of a piece with its neighbours, representing tweaks, sometimes “progressive” and in other cases “regressive” to laws and practices common across the Middle East and Byzantine Rome. To try to squeeze a feminist interpretation out of the Islamic ethic on women’s rights is a quixotic exercise.

So, was the Koran the first document to guarantee property rights to women? No. By the C5th BCE, Roman women could own land by law, write wills and appear in court. Islam conquered the Sassanid Empire. Sassanid women had rights to land, to contractual agreements, trading transactions and inheritance. They had a three-tier polygamous marriage system. Islam looks to have adapted women’s rights from the neighbouring Sassanid Empire, slightly ameliorated some aspects and restricted others.


Sassanid-era artwork of a woman. Pic courtesy Wikipedia.


Of course, Islam encouraged slavery in the form of marrying into it. In this it was no different from the Palmyran Roman soldier Barates of second century South Shields who married a Britannic slave girl. Jesus does not explicitly mention slavery, but there was a strong thread in early Christianity which saw Jesus as a slave of the Lord (the word is usually translated as “servant”, but that is historically wrong, and reformation Christian apologetics). The Didache, for instance calls Jesus a slave of the Lord (9:2), and Jesus was viewed as the pattern of humanity whom one should copy: one should also be a slave – the idea is called kenosis. Islam – meaning submission – looks to have heavily plagiarized that masochistic strain in monotheism. Yes, Paul mentioned slavery but did not oppose it: he actually did recommend that a particular slave be treated kindly, but that was no more than an intelligent upper-class Roman would do anyway. Early Islam goes further: we have the account of female captives being raped before being sold on, under Muhammad’s guidance (Bukhari 34:432). There is no hint that the idea was to abolish slavery. And after all it took the Dar al-Islam 1,300 years to officially outlaw slavery: if Islam was so intent on abolishing it, it was very sluggish.

We do know that polygyny is highly correlated with inequality among men: it also correlates with women being better off in that situation where they can share a high-status male as opposed to monogamy with a low status single male. Monogamy has a much better chance of self-sustaining under conditions of modern economic development. It is one thing for the ideology of Islam merely to reflect the conditions under which it arose. It is entirely another for its votaries to claim it as a progressive breakthrough for women: God knows what that would mean for their circumstances in pre-Islamic Arabia. And he probably did not.

The declaration that Islam liberated women always strikes one as slightly absurd and a politically-inspired back-projection of current cultural debate: if it were left to in-depth comparative history, the issue would become progressively more complicated.


What do I get if I cherry-pick the Koran?

One’s first impression on reading the Koran is the vengefulness of its god Allah. Marcion, the early Christian, must have had a similar thought when reading of Yahweh in the Old Testament. For that reason, he denied that his New Testament god was Yahweh and sought to make his god a gentler character. We see no such effort by Muhammad, despite the many times he called Allah “compassionate” and “merciful”: in that case, surely Muhammad must be redefining the meaning of those two words?

When one debates with Muslim apologists, one is struck by how certain they are that Allah is indeed merciful. Try as one might to refer them to the many amoral and immoral passages in the book, they will accuse you of cherry-picking and failing to look at the broader context of a compassionate god. For them, this god is a “warner” of misery in this world and eternal hellfire in the next: he exhorts you towards him, that is the “mercy”.

Dr. Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of Islamic Studies in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame, says we have a, “sort of hyperbolic or exaggerated language which the Quran uses for the sake of its exhortation”. He continues, “I think that the very fact that the Quran uses terms and flowery language, at times, of how compassionate God is and sometimes very angry language and to make a point, is precisely part of the inimitability that it has this kind of rhetorical effect… And it’s precisely this rhetoric in these conversations between multiple audiences that has that beauty…”, and further, “It’s not enough to isolate one phrase or one turn of phrase… without the context.”

Accordingly, I thought it would be a good idea to conduct a statistical analysis on the exhortatory language in the Koran. How often is Allah shown being compassionate? And how often, angry? It will also give us an idea of the context of the Koran, about which we read so much.


One of the earliest Koranic manuscripts: the Birmingham Koran. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Let us look at the pericopes outlining moral precepts. We have punishment or carrot passages. If we count them, that can tell us the amount of times Allah threatens or offers rewards. One’s initial thought on reading the Koran is of the overwhelming tone of God threatening the listener. Is this true? If one uses the Sceptic’s Annotated Quran, the site has usefully categorized passages into headings like “Good Stuff”, “Intolerance” and so on. Naturally, the categorization of any text is in principle sub-divisible into any number, but we do have to set some reasonable criteria.

So, we can get some data on the number of times the Koran is “angry” or “compassionate” – if we associate that idea with “good stuff”. We will also get an idea of the ratio of anger to compassion, and therefore statistics on the rhetorical techniques of the piece.

Here are the categories which I have selected as being relevant to “anger” and “compassion”. The number after them is the number of verses or passages which are examples of that category.

Under “compassion”, we have “Good stuff” – 78

Under “anger”, we have “Injustice” – 769. “Intolerance” – 537. “Cruelty and Violence” – 532. “Women” – 62. “Family values” – 28. “Sex” – 28. “Language” – 6. “Homosexuality” – 4.

Here is an example of “Good stuff”.

Confound not truth with falsehood, nor knowingly conceal the truth. (2:42)

And here is an instance of “Intolerance”.

As for the Disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not. Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom. (2:6-7)

Both translations by Pickthall.

We have a total of 2,044 passages. (A caveat: some verses may be counted twice e.g. “Injustice” and “Intolerance” may share a passage). Nevertheless, we can make some preliminary statistical conclusions.

Out of 2,044 passages about Allah’s anger and compassion, 78 are about Allah’s compassion and a maximum of 1,966 are about his anger. 3.8% of the Koran exhorts potential believers using a description of a compassionate Allah. Up to 96.2% of the Koran exhorts potential believers using a description of an angry Allah.

To sum up, the rhetorical techniques of the Koran are overwhelmingly framed in a context of anger. By contrast, less than 5% of the text is framed in a context of compassion. So, when we refer to the wider context of the book that context is one of anger.

When Dr. Moosa describes the Koran as using “sometimes very angry language” he is statistically way off the mark. The Koran’s god is angry in 19 out of 20 cases on average. To describe this as “inimitable” may be true, but not in the sense that Dr. Moosa means. I am not qualified to comment on Dr. Moosa’s “beauty” of the “clear Arabic” which the Koran claims for itself. But Gerd Puin is: he is a scholar of Koranic historical handwriting form Saarland University. He says that 20% of the Koran is unintelligible. Both of them cannot be correct.

In response to Dr. Moosa’s “It’s not enough to isolate one phrase or one turn of phrase… without the context…”, one can only aver that the context is one of an angry, unjust, intolerant, cruel, violent, misogynistic, intemperate and homophobic god.

So what do “compassionate” and “merciful” mean in the Koran? They mean that Allah is warning you – literally – to convert to Islam, otherwise you will lead a life of subaltern status and in the hereafter suffer the Blaze, the Fire, the Blazing Fire, the Abyss, and other synonyms for hell which the Koran delights in listing.

When one cherry-picks the Koran, one has to misleadingly select the good parts.


How good is Islam at condemning terrorism?


You may not have heard of the Amman Declaration from 2005. Its aim was to dissociate Islam from the terrorism committed by jihadists who quoted Koranic verses as their rationale. Two hundred of the leading Islamic “scholars” signed, among whom was the Supreme Leader of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. It was a big deal: Tony Blair praised its attempt to portray Islam as a religion of peace.

Accordingly, the Amman message quotes the Koran 5:32 thus:

Whoever kills a soul for other than slaying a soul or corruption upon the earth it is as if he has killed the whole of humanity, and whoever saves a life, it is as if has (sic) revived the whole of humanity.


Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, signatory of the Amman Declaration. Pic. courtesy alchetron.com.


Unfortunately, as one often finds in Islamic apologetics, this is not 5:32. Pickthall’s well-regarded translation is this:

For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind…

Parenthetically, I cannot find from a database of Koranic translations the source of the Amman Declaration’s English version.

Notice that the decree applies in this and nearly all translations to the Children of Israel, the Jews, not to humanity as a whole. You can check here: www.islamawakened.com/quran/5/32/default.htm Amman omits the Children of Israel phrase in order to present Islam broadly – not totally – as propounding a pacifistic criticism of killing. We can see how the message has to deliberately edit the uncreated word of God in order to criticise AQ and AQI.

Further, in line with the rule that the context of Koran always makes the passage worse let us look at the following verse, 5:33. Again, Pickthall:

The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom;

This is a verse which specifically states that those who corrupt the land against Allah, whatever that means, should be crucified. In other words, the Jews are told how to behave and the Koran gives the right to Muslims to kill whoever opposes them on the vague charge of seeking corruption in the land. One might observe that Muhammad recommends a more humanitarian ideal for Jews than he does for Muslims.

So, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, signed this document, a few years before he funded and directed the systematic genocide of Syrian Muslims. It is entirely believable that he knows that 5:33 sanctions the murder of non-Muslims. This is the depth of cynicism with which the document was signed.

From a literary-historical point of view, it gets worse for 5:32. A key point in Islamic theology is that the Jews “corrupted” the Bible, although the Koran is characteristically vague on where it occurs, who corrupted it and when. It is one example, in which it is Muhammad himself who was “corrupting the Bible”. It is a famous passage.

We know that this passage refers either to the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud (the Oral Law). But Muhammad, by saying “we decreed for the Children of Israel” in Koran 5:32 (my italics), tells us it is from the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. He was wrong. He presents the wrong source for a quote from God. He was arguing against something that the Torah does not say. He was therefore arguing against a straw-man. He was, as a critic of Islam once wrote, “never providing any reasoned argument that engages with the actual beliefs of (his) opponents”.

It gets even worse for Muhammad. The Jerusalem Talmud does not refer at all to the “Children of Israel” and only some copies of the Babylonian Talmud do. In other words, the majority of Talmudic opinion would go like this.

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

Muhammad, by applying this idea only to the souls of the children of Israel, made this idea less universal. And he explicitly sanctioned Muslim killing of “corrupters”. 5:32 makes clear that the poetic idea of killing one person equating to killing all humanity does not apply to Muslims.


A page from a tenth century Talmud manuscript. Courtesy blogs.cul.columbia.edu.


This is one of the best examples I can find in favour of Muhammad’s accuracy, as it is the most famous instance of his taking Jewish thought. But still he got it wrong. It is quite possible that Muhammad did not understand the difference between the Law (the Torah) and the Oral law (the Talmud), and a commentary by a Jewish exegete.

Briefly, Muhammad so often mischaracterized Jewish thought and 5:32 is one more instance.

Now, if I, a non-Muslim, can point all this out about the Amman Declaration’s deliberate misquoting of 5:32, what do you think that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would think of it? This is why an honest reflection on the text is important in the discussion on the link between Islamist terrorism and Islamic doctrine.

One cannot just go around making things up.