I was dismayed - but not surprised - that a feminist science fiction convention this week rescinded its invitation to Texas author Elizabeth Moon to serve as a Guest of Honor. I thought, especially in light of the Juan Williams case here in the U.S. and the Geert Wilders case in the Netherlands, that it was a subject of general interest to my newspaper readers, and I interviewed Moon on Friday.
I wrote up this story for Sunday's paper, which I think is a pretty good summation of the subject, especially for members of the general public
Texas author un-invited as convention
Guest of Honor over remarks on Islam
By LOU ANTONELLI
A best-selling Texas science fiction author has been un-invited as a Guest of Honor at a literary convention in the wake of controversial remarks she posted on her personal blog Sept. 11 on the subject of citizenship, assimilation and Islam.
Elizabeth Moon is a best-selling author who lives in Florence, a small town of approximately 1,000 people in Williamson County, 40 miles north of Austin. She said she received a phone call Wednesday evening from a representative of WisCon, the self-described “world's leading feminist science fiction convention” held in Wisconsin every spring, stating her invitation as a Guest of Honor had been rescinded.
Moon’s comments in her Sept. 11 posting, specifically on assimilation and Islam, has generated a firestorm of controversy among the science fiction community of authors.
Moon said she felt her comments were centrist and really didn’t expect them to generate as such controversy as they did. “The polarization of American politics, world politics, for that matter,” she said, “decreases the opportunity for civil discourse. What we dare not mention - because of fear of backlash - and cannot discuss calmly, because of the actual backlash and the feeding frenzy, is often what most needs to be brought into the open.”
Addressing the issue of assimilation and the proposed mosque to be built in the vicinity of the former World Trade Center in New York City, Moon had written, in part, on Sept. 11, 2010:
“A group must grasp that if its non-immigrant members somewhere else are causing people a lot of grief (hijacking planes and cruise ships, blowing up embassies, etc.) it is going to have a harder row to hoe for awhile, and it would be prudent (another citizenly virtue) to a) speak out against such things without making excuses for them and b) otherwise avoid doing those things likely to cause offence.
“When an Islamic group decided to build a memorial center at/near the site of the 9/11 attack, they should have been able to predict that this would upset a lot of people. Not only were the attackers Islamic - and not only did the Islamic world in general show indecent glee about the attack, but this was only the last of many attacks on citizens and installations of this country which Islamic groups proudly claimed credit for.
“That some Muslims died in the attacks is immaterial - does not wipe out the long, long chain of Islamic hostility. It would have been one thing to have the Muslim victims' names placed with the others, and identified there as Muslims- but to use that site to proselytize for the religion that lies behind so many attacks on the innocent (I cannot forget the Jewish man in a wheelchair pushed over the side of the ship to drown, or Maj. Nadal's attack on soldiers at Fort Hood) was bound to raise a stink.”
“It is hard to believe that those making the application did not know that - did not anticipate it - and were not, in a way, probing to see if they could start a controversy. If they did not know, then they did not know enough about the culture into which they had moved.
“I know - I do not dispute - that many Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks, did not approve of them, would have stopped them if they could. I do not dispute that there are moderate, even liberal, Muslims, that many Muslims have all the virtues of civilized persons and are admirable in all those ways. But Muslims fail to recognize how much forbearance they've had.
“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 to have them understand what they're demanding of me and others - how much more they're asking than giving.
“It would be helpful for them to show more understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship in a non-Muslim country.”
Immediately after the convention’s decision was announced, Moon posted a short note on her blog: “WisCon management has the right to make whatever decisions they think best for the convention. I do not and did not dispute their right to rescind the invitation.”
A native Texan, Moon was born Susan Elizabeth Norris and grew up in McAllen. She earned a Bachelor's degree in History from Rice University in 1968. She later earned a second B.A. degree in Biology. In 1968, she joined the United States Marine Corps, attaining the rank of 1st Lieutenant while on active duty in the Vietnam Era.
She has published 21 novels, including “The Speed of Dark”, which won the top honor, the Nebula award, from the Science Fiction Writers of America, in 2003.
Moon said Friday that the revocation of the invitation to be Guest of Honor at the convention, to be held in Madison, Wisconsin, May 26-30, 2011, wasn’t a surprise. “Earlier contact with the convention committee suggested it was likely,” she said. “They were under a lot of pressure.”
The convention’s statement posted on its web site Thursday read simply that it “has withdrawn the invitation to Elizabeth Moon to attend WisCon 35 as guest of honor.”
Moon said her comments posted Sept 11 “weren't intended to be inflammatory, but there's the firestorm. Compared to others I'd run across - on the same subject - which struck me as being far to either end of a spectrum of opinion, I thought they were in the middle somewhere.”
Charges of retaliation flew this past week on blogs and web sites across the internet. Moon was philosophical on the subject. “The right to free speech does not include the right to have everyone like what you say...there is no Constitutional right to be agreed with, liked, or befriended.”
“Nobody likes being dumped on,” she continued. “I do care, and it does hurt. But you have to be able not to be intimidated.”
“I've had to deal with this kind of pressure repeatedly, during and after the Vietnam War, for instance, and have sometimes been dumped on by both sides of a position at the same time.”
Moon noted she grew up in the Rio Grande Valley in a diverse culture that included many different types of people, including recent refugees in the wake of the Second World War. “One thing we learned was that nobody was ever totally right, and expressing your opinion was not an attack on any specific group,” she said. “Just voicing your opinion was not perceived as an all-out attack on someone. You never saw things in just black and white.”
“One of the necessary skills of citizenship is developing the ability to hear and think about criticism while not being intimidated by it.”
Moon decried the polarized tone of public discourse in America today. “There seems to be very little space for centrism left,” she said. “Remember Jim Hightower's book with the long title about what's in the middle of the road? A yellow stripe and dead armadillos. My personal view is that we need to widen the middle of the road, because everyone needs a turn lane sometime.”
America’s political parties have fallen prey to the same polarization, she noted. Neither party has any centrists left; years ago, “both parties had middles,” she said.
Responding to allegations that the convention’s action in dis-inviting might have a chilling effect on free speech, Moon agreed it might, “One, by intimidating or disgusting some who would otherwise have made useful contributions to a topic and thereby enriched the knowledge base. We lose the contributions of those who don't participate.”
“Second, by demonstrating the effectiveness of attacks in maintaining and directing power,” she continued. “This is a strong incentive for people who are willing to risk confrontation to use the same tactics that they see being effective. The answer to why bullies bully is that it worked for them. It's the same with verbal bullying as with physical bullying.”
Moon said she has no plans to attend the convention as a participant – “I wouldn’t go where I’m not wanted” - and as for the fall-out from the controversy, it’s too soon to tell the long-term effects. “Some people have said they'll never buy my books again and will tell others not to buy them. Others have said because of this they'll buy my books and tell others to buy them. Time will tell.”