An open letter to the outgoing SFWA board of directors re: Theodore Beale

Dear board members—

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about Mr. Beale so I’ll be brief: I don’t know if we still (or yet) have a code of conduct but I can’t imagine that if we did have one his use of the @SFWAAuthors Twitter feed to spread his attack on Nora Jemisin would be allowable under it. (The attack itself, even without dragging in @SFWAAuthors, seems to me to clearly violate sections 3, 4, and probably 7 of the one we used to have. Of course, section 10 of that code kind of pulls most of its teeth.)

I’m writing to ask you to take the strongest steps you think are allowable under our current bylaws to discipline Mr. Beale, whether that’s censure, expulsion, or some other punishment to be named later. At this point I’m not sure anything could be better for SFWA’s public image than to have someone like Mr. Beale outside it shouting loudly about how unwelcome he is in it.

And I’d also like to ask you to please pass on to the incoming board my hope that issues of harrassment, professional misconduct, and putting SFWA into disrepute will be high on their priority list for next year.

With sincere thanks for all your hard work, and sincere regret that the bad behavior of a few individuals has overshadowed it recently in the public eye—

—David Moles

Many writers have all the virtues of civilized persons

(Title shamelessly stolen from Matt Withers.)

Science fiction has always liked to think of itself as either a vanguard or a bubble — preferably both at once. The truth is — as would be too dead obvious to need saying, if not for the stories we’ve kept telling ourselves about ourselves over the years — that science fiction is a product of society and its hopes and fears are a product of society’s hopes and fears.*

So it’s sad, but not particularly surprising, to see a prominent science fiction writer break down and give voice to her pent-up resentment at having to be nice to Muslims all this time.

But Muslims fail to recognize how much forbearance they’ve had. Schools in my area held consciousness-raising sessions for kids about not teasing children in Muslim-defined clothing…but not about not teasing Jewish children or racial minorities. More law enforcement was dedicated to protecting mosques than synagogues–and synagogues are still targeted for vandalism. What I heard, in my area, after 9/11, was not condemnation by local mosques of the attack — but an immediate cry for protection even before anything happened. Our church, and many others (not, obviously all) already had in place a “peace and reconciliation” program that urged us to understand, forgive, pray for, not just innocent Muslims but the attackers themselves. It sponsored a talk by a Muslim from a local mosque — but the talk was all about how wonderful Islam was — totally ignoring the historical roots of Islamic violence.

… I feel that I personally (and many others) lean over backwards to put up with these things, to let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship, on the grounds of their personal freedom. … It would be helpful for them to show more understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship in a non-Muslim country.

A couple of days ago James Fallows wrote a post called “A Harsh Thing I Should Have Said.”

Earlier this week I wrote an item about an incredible instance of public bigotry in the American intelligentsia. I decided not to push the “publish” button, because — well, I didn’t need to say it. Other people were pointing out the bigotry. … But Nicholas Kristof’s column today makes me realize I was wrong. The upsurge in expressed hostility toward Muslims — not toward extremists or terrorists but toward adherents of a religion as a group — creates an American moment that isn’t going to look good in historical retrospect. The people indulging in this… deserve to be called out.

He wasn’t talking about Elizabeth Moon’s incredible instance of public bigotry, of course, he was talking about Martin Peretz’s — which only goes to show how right he is that the problem here is not one or two bigoted essays by one or two willfully ignorant individuals but a climate of bigotry and willful ignorance. It’s public (technically-)intellectuals like Mr. Peretz that give voice to and cover for the fears and hatreds of the public; it’s authors like Ms. Moon that give voice to and cover for the fears and hatreds of fandom. It’s because we’ve allowed such a climate to be created that Ms. Moon feels comfortable taking the occasion of 9/11 to vent her petty nativist bullshit.

Because that’s all this is: venting.

It certainly has nothing to do with its ostensible subject, the Cordoba House / Park51 project, because it’s clear from Ms. Moon’s post that she doesn’t know thing one about it — she calls it “a memorial center at/near the site of the 9/11 attacks,” which by my count is three errors and a lie in twelve words. But I don’t blame Ms. Moon for the lie; she’s only repeating what the media’s been telling her — what our climate of bigotry and willful ignorance has been telling her.

It certainly has nothing to do with the compatibility with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence of what “Muslims” believe, or Ms. Moon would demonstrate some awareness that Christians like herself — “Christians like herself” insofar, that is, as Sayyid Qutb is a Muslim like Feisal Abdul Rauf — believe, when it comes to the proper government of the United States, some crazy-ass shit.

It has nothing to do with actually existing “Muslims,” because (as Fallows says in a follow-up post) the term, which covers something like a quarter of the human population, is so broad as to be meaningless.

And it certainly has nothing to do with the responsibilities of citizenship, or Ms. Moon would understand that responsible citizenship requires us to stand up for what’s right — including the “personal freedom” of people we don’t know and may not like — always, not just when it’s easy, or not just until, like Ms. Moon, we get tired of it.

We all do get tired sometimes and we all do behave irresponsibly — as citizens, as human beings. But it’s telling that what Ms. Moon is tired of is not a decade of culture war, a decade of actual war, a decade of greed, a decade of cruelty and hatred and cynical opportunism, a decade of the worst people in the Islamic world and the worst people in Christendom clamoring for Armageddon.

She’s tired of feeling like she has to watch her tongue around those damned Muslims.

I can easily imagine how Muslims would react to my excusing the Crusades on the basis of Islamic aggression from 600 to 1000 C.E. … (for instance, excusing the building of a church on the site of a mosque in Cordoba after the Reconquista by reminding them of the mosque built on the site of an important early Christian church in Antioch.) So I don’t give that lecture to the innocent Muslims I come in contact with. … It would be helpful to have them understand what they’re demanding of me and others — how much more they’re asking than giving.

It’s sad. But, as I said, not surprising. America is full of privileged people who are tired of being nice to the less privileged. And until we have justice, it always will be. It’s sucky but there it is.

All I can say in response is what Ms. Moon herself says — something with which I agree wholeheartedly.

“Acceptance” is a multi-directional communications grid. Groups that self-isolate, that determinedly distinguish themselves by location, by language, by dress, will not be accepted as readily as those that plunge into the mainstream. This is not just an American problem — this is human nature, the tribalism that underlies all societies and must be constantly curtailed if larger groups are to co-exist. It is natural to want to be around those who talk like you, eat the familiar foods, wear the familiar clothes, have the familiar cultural references. But in a multicultural society like ours — and it has been multi-cultural from its inception — citizens need to go beyond nature. That includes those who by their history find it least comfortable.

Brave words and true.

Especially from a self-proclaimed “small-town Texas gal” engaged in telling New Yorkers how to live.

* Anybody who’s surprised that a book like The Windup Girl won the Hugo and the Nebula in the third year of the Great Recession, the year of Deepwater Horizon, and the year of the first commercial voyage through the North-East Passage without icebreaker escort has failed to grasp this.

Which she doesn’t, actually. See David Mitchell, “If Britain decides to ban the burqa, I might just start wearing one.” Quoth Mr. Mitchell: “In a free society, people should be allowed to do what they want wherever possible. The loss of liberty incurred by any alternative principle is too high a price to pay to stop people making dicks of themselves. But, if people are using their freedoms to make dicks of themselves, other people should be able to say so.”

Personally, I don’t give that lecture to “innocent Muslims” because I don’t want them to think I’m fucking insane. Excuse the Crusades or the Ummayads, I mean, Bizarro am paperclip the stoplight, puny Earthling!¤ Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine: “Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!” (Actually, the speech that follows is worth quoting, too, in this context: “Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers.”)

¤ Apologies to Patrick.