Sarah Haider: from Ex-Muslim to gender atheist

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On this episode of the Unsupervised Learning podcast Razib talks to his friend Sarah Haider, founder of Ex-Muslims of North America and the writer behind a new Substack, Hold That Thought. Born in Pakistan, and raised in Texas in a Shia Muslim family, Sarah came to prominence in 2015 after she gave a speech called "Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique" at The American Humanist Association's 74th annual conference.

Razib and Sarah first discuss where the Ex-Muslim community is in 2022, especially after a few years of COVID-19 that dampened face-to-face meetups. Sarah argues that there has been a massive change in the acceptance and visibility of Ex-Muslims over the past decade. To a great extent the community has taken on a life of its own, and the shepherding role of Ex-Muslims of North America is not nearly as essential as it was when it was founded in 2013. It should be noted here that public apostasy in Islam is traditionally a capital crime, so people who are skeptical of religion from a Muslim background have often been wary of being open and honest about their views.

Sarah also observes that Ex-Muslims have weathered the cultural changes on the social Left better than the broader atheist and secular community over the last few years, which has been fractured by the rise of the “woke” faction. Razib asks if this is possibly due to a high degree of disagreeability among Ex-Muslims, who are often strongly selected for nonconformity in order to be willing to go against the grain, even at great personal and social cost. Sarah agrees and offers that this is in contrast to what she terms the “evangelical to woke” pipeline, where conservative Protestants leave their religion behind only to adopt an entirely new set of strident beliefs (on her Substack Sarah has a post Is Wokism uniquely Christian?). Razib questions Sarah as to whether the decline of religion over the last generation that New Atheists were cheering for in the aughts was really a force for good.

While they were discussing various heresies, Sarah offered that she was a “gender atheist.” She takes a highly critical view of what she calls “gender ideology,” asserting the primacy of biological sex. Razib and Sarah then mull over whether this is truly the current age’s biggest third rail, and why that might be.

Eventually, Razib stumbles on the fact that Sarah is a “Rogan-bro” (she listens semi-regularly to the podcast). She discusses why people listen, Joe Rogan’s relationship to his audience, and explains how she came to be a listener and why she continues to tune in. She also discusses her piece Why Deplatforming Joe Rogan Will Backfire.

Finally, Sarah talks about what it’s like to be a young woman who has a public online presence, from excessive attention to harassment from conservative Muslims. They close out with a discussion about future directions in her career and activism. Sarah talks about why she started the Substack and why she is now pursuing writing and thinking on topics outside her secular/Ex-Muslim bailiwick.

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