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Moon, WisCon

Like a lot of other people, I was saddened and disgusted by Elizabeth Moon's recent comments on Islam. (For those who don't know about this: Moon, a fairly prominent writer of what is generally termed 'military sf', who also won a Nebula award for a novel about autism, wrote a rambling and offensive screed about the duties of Muslims in the US to be more sensitive to people like her if they want to be worthy of citizenship, let alone building places of worship in downtown New York, because of what a small number of their co-religionists from outside the US did nine years ago. I won't link to it but if you haven't seen it it won't be difficult to find.)

For me, of course, it rang a particular bell; quite apart from my sympathy with my Muslim friends and relatives who have to put up with this kind of thing day in day out, I am not unacquainted with the position of being in a minority group, seeing people parading outside my front door celebrating that they are more equal citizens than I am, and accused of being a supporter of terrorism on the grounds of my religious background. It was not very difficult for me to read Moon's piece and mentally substitute 'Catholic' or 'Irish' where she put 'Muslim', with the context switched to the other side of the Atlantic.

(And while I know some readers sympathised with, and possibly even participated in, the recent protests against the Pope's visit to the UK, I hope they were wary of the company they were keeping. I don't like Benedict XVI much, but I don't like bigotry either. The always readable Laurie Penny has a very sane leftist take on the affair.)

Anyway, another parallel suggested itself to me reading the various views about Moon's proposed attendance at WisCon 2011 as one of its Guests of Honour. WisCon proudly proclaims itself as a 'Feminist sf convention' and the organising committee quickly moved to distance themselves from Moon's remarks, though without formally withdrawing the invitation; the other guest of honour has appealed to those who were offended by Moon's remarks to attend the convention anyway.

It reminded me of the incident about a year ago when a friend of mine was actually banned from his local sf convention (no links; those who were involved will certainly remember the incident I'm talking about which got a lot of coverage online at the time). That seemed to me a fairly clear case of a decision which was bad and wrong: no reason was formally given for the banning, though there were dark mutterings about events two years previously (which, as I had in fact been present myself on that occasion, did not seem to me an adequate explanation). While the convention were clearly within their rights to ban anyone they wished not to see, the decision did not seem fair or justified and damaged their reputation. In the end the ban was rescinded and a public statement of reconciliation made by both sides.

But it did make me consider the question of what level of misbehaviour should be sufficient to make such a decision fair or justified. It's a slightly different topic, but I remember two friends of mine disinviting someone from their wedding at the last minute because he had grossly offended them in the pub the night before. That seemed to me fair and justified. If I were the WisCon committee, I would consider Moon's behaviour to be of that order of gravity; a decision to remove her Guest of Honour status would seem fair and justified to me, and would not damage WisCon's reputation. Indeed as things stand, the only justification I can see for their not taking that decision is the hope that Moon will issue some adequate apology for and withdrawal of her remarks.

Of course, this is commentary from another continent from someone who wasn't likely to attend WisCon anyway (my only con this year was DiscWorld - had hoped to go to BeneluxCon down the road in Antwerp but must now travel that weekend), and I'm sure that those concerned will give my views the attention they deserve. But I have certainly had the experience of deliberately deciding not to attend particular events because of wanting to avoid other people who I knew would be present, and I feel very much for those who were looking forward to next year's WisCon and now are not. Moon's co-Guest of Honour hopes that "Elizabeth Moon will have things to say to the community at large, and apologies to deliver". Well, we'll see.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 26th, 2010 08:06 am (UTC)
I agree. And you express this very well.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 26th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, that sounds like it must've been a lot of fun. Kudos to you for getting such a good combination protest worked out. Couldn't've happened to two nicer people... may they find themselves forced bedfellows someday in hell.
Sep. 26th, 2010 09:42 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Sep. 26th, 2010 10:03 am (UTC)
That's pretty much how I feel about it too. Coming from a minority religion based group myself (in this country, anyway), my hackles always rise when I see such statements by people who I would have expected to be somewhat less ignorant :( I've long since learned to wait before commenting though, as raised hackles rarely allow me to make eloquent, impartial and sensible comments :)
Sep. 26th, 2010 12:47 pm (UTC)
I liked the suggestion somebody made, that anyone else who had a programming slot at Wiscon request not to be put into the same programming as Ms. Moon. This makes chaos for the concom, gets the point across that one isn't happy with their deciding to keep on their GoH under these circumstances, and isolates her within the context of the convention even if one can't get her removed. It's possible to hold the convention around, but not with, her.

I think this kind of thing is some of why I avoid SF cons and stick to filkcons, though. Mostly, because of the smaller size of the community, reputation is a fast-hitting and effective weapon against misbehavior in filk, and someone who offends too many people will find that they can keep showing up at conventions, but they will sooner or later either need to make reparations or deal with the fact that they have no access to anything except public programming, and may be left feeling a little uncomfortable when they show up to that. They don't get GoH invites, they don't get concert slots, they don't get requests in song circle, they don't get asked to join the dinner group. I've never seen a case where someone in that position didn't clue up and start making apologies pretty fast. (Whether it works or not is a different matter; reputation is a slow-moving beast, and once lost can take time to get back. I've had to work on that myself at times.)

Result: a community that's easier to self-police than SF fandom, where you have thousands of people with different agendas, many of whom weren't there for any one guest and could care less about her. I don't have the allergy to SF cons that I used to; the old traumas have largely worn off by now, though there are still a few specific cons in the northeastern US that I Will Not Attend, not ever. But I won't ever like them much, I don't think; they are just too darn big.
Sep. 26th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
Well said. Even though the Wiscon Concom didn't withdraw the invitation to EM, I wonder if it was 'suggested' that , after a face-saving interval, she might regretfully withdraw from the con due to pressure of work --or that she even might make that decision herself? We'll see.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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