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Burka-clad women walk in the old city of Kabul (AFP/Getty) 

A while ago, a BBC producer phoned to tell me I had written a "controversial" book. I knew that already, and gathered from the teeth-sucking sound coming down the line that she did not approve.

"So," she continued, "we've lined up four guests to argue against you." 

I told her to go away — maybe I used a stronger term — and then thought about her predicament. As a biased broadcaster, she wanted to hear my book denounced, but she could not risk organising a one-on-one debate. Maybe I would have come out on top. More probably, some listeners would have agreed with me, others with my opponent, as is the normal way of things. By arranging her show to make it four against one, however, she could maintain the illusion of impartiality while creating the impression in listeners' mind that the consensus was overwhelmingly against arguments she found uncomfortable. In the interests of "balance" and of letting "everyone have their say", she would fill 80 per cent of the airtime with advocates of her own political position. I have watched out for rigged debates ever since. They are the surest signal the BBC dares send that an idea does not deserve a hearing in polite society. 

Ophelia Benson did not quite get the four-on-one treatment when she appeared on Radio 3's cultural talk show Nightwaves to discuss a "controversial" book she has co-authored with Jeremy Stangroom. They gave her a mere two opponents, and the presenter tried to be fair. Still, when one adversary stopped disparaging her, the other started, as the BBC flashed warning signs to listeners to ignore her.

If they missed the point, the press banged it home. The Independent denounced Benson and Stangroom "as inflammatory in the extreme"; authors who produce "torrents of invective" and "show no desire to go beyond name-calling and distortion." The Guardian accused them of "crudeness and lack of insight". It was "staggered anyone wanted to publish" them, and concluded that only a base desire to make money could explain the release of a "profoundly intellectually dishonest", "hysterical" and "bizarre" work. My own newspaper, the Observer, was slightly more temperate, but not so the casual reader would notice. Benson and Stangroom were not original thinkers but had "trawled through newspaper articles". They "splutter with righteous anger", their style "clunky", "hammering" and "repetitive", their arguments "flimsy" and "deadening".

Readers who imagine that Benson and Stangroom were on the receiving end of the fullest stomach-load of bile literary London has brought up this year because they were making the case for white supremacy or the return of the death penalty do not understand the dark turn Western thought took between the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Benson and Stangroom's book is Does God Hate Women?, which the predecessors of today's critics would have hailed as a feminist classic.

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September 5th, 2009
12:09 AM
So liberals and feminists are now the cause of the suffering and oppression of women in Islamic countries. But hasnt it been the actions and strategies of Western governments, particularly the USA to keep all of these horrible regimes in place to protect their "security" interests. Why wasnt Saudi Arabia invaded after September 11--after all most of the terrorists were Saudi nationals. And lets not forget that most if not all of these regimes were originally created and installed by western governments, particularly the "freedom" loving British.

Bill Corr
September 3rd, 2009
3:09 PM
Islamic culture is wonderful:

September 2nd, 2009
2:09 PM
"For at the root of the weird twists in liberal opinion I have been arguing against lies physical fear:" Ah fear. The basis of religion, remarked Bertie Russell -- doubtless not alone. The other half of religion is sex. It is interesting/disgraceful to confront the misogyny here in Massachusetts, the source of the new feminist and the original abolitionist movements, among some "educated." 'Feudalistic' societies need time to evolve "from within": we must submit to time and remove revolt or revolution from our black hearts. And we atheists do have to submit in "educated" and polite society. We may not declare such things as the equality of misogyny and religion. If one percent of the men in 'Islamic' cultures were treated the way essentially 100% of the women are, we would not have trouble with calling it slavery.

Frank M
September 2nd, 2009
12:09 PM
So we'll all be soon able to review a book of merit by this resistor then? No - I didn't think so.

September 2nd, 2009
11:09 AM
Not only is educating women the one true path out of poverty, it is also the only really effective contraceptive, thereby leading to better health for mothers and babies and less population pressure - having too many babies is a very good way of keeping women quiet. So please will everyone in the West acknowledge that most Islamic sects, and many other 'traditional' societies, condone and approve the hideous contravention of human rights for half any given population. 'Culture' be damned. Jesus on the other hand had an anachronistically positive approach to women and never married anyone - although he did talk to and teach, and heal the taboo illnesses of, and make friends with, many.

daniel lionsden
September 2nd, 2009
8:09 AM
Another magnificent article Mr Cohen. I tip my hat to you.

Mariam Dessaive
September 1st, 2009
12:09 PM
One of the things I understand better now is the colonial position white women take in view of suppressed coloured ones. They tend to increasingly disregard them as equals. Probably, because most white women are still not truly equal themselves, and what with economic difficulties looming, may have to retreat to traditional roles once again. This is what it looks like in Germany, where Turkish or Polish women as a matter of course do the cleaning jobs. Though: introducing the Sharia in England on the prompting of a male Anglican (?) did shock us! Very good article, thank you! Herzliche Grüße aus Frankfurt!

September 1st, 2009
9:09 AM
Well, I suppose the grand conspiracy theory holds some water, save for one small yet significant point: New Statesman, a magazine whose existence I'm sure Nick is well aware, published a very positive review of this book by Johann Hari (ditto, mutatis mutandi) which concludes in part: "Anybody not addled by superstition will have to conclude that such bigotry deserves neither respect nor deference. [...] It deserves the opposite: contempt – and relentless, unyielding opposition." While the unedifying spectacle of Greer et al attempting to outdo the last outrage of relativism is indeed sickening, it is noteworthy that there are persons of conscience on every side of the political divide who can see these outrages for what they are.

August 31st, 2009
10:08 PM
'Does God Hate Women?' is a terrific book - and by the way, it didn't get universally bad reviews, See Joan Smith in The Independent for instance - she called it a wonderful book.

August 31st, 2009
9:08 AM
Isn't it bizarre that while Nick Cohen is raising a very serious issue about women (as the tiltle might suggest) some troll couldn't brings Iraq into the conversation. Why be shy 'resistor' and not mention Neo-con, Bushitler, Bliar et al? An no, Nick is not inventing a conspiracy. The smug liberal establishment's cowardice in the face of religious fascism is there for all to see, except for those who have a vested interest in playing nice with Islamist hand-choppers.

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