Perhaps contemporary 'cancel culture' officially began in 1989, when Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie for having 'defamed' Islam in The Satanic Verses. Rushdie was ushered into hiding and the Islamist assault on truth-speech in the West was on. But here's what I also think.
The day after Israel won its 1967 war of self-defense, the propaganda began in deadly earnest against both Israel and the West. Within two decades, perhaps less, Western universities were intellectually and politically 'occupied' by Stalinist and Islamist narratives. Balkanized social identities and victimology ruled.
Academics, including feminists (my people), became more obsessed with the alleged occupation of Palestine, a country that had never existed, than with real genocides or the occupation of women's bodies.
By the 1980s and 1990s, the intelligentsia passionately agreed that 'Islamophobia' really existed.
They were only a decade away from believing that men can be women; that only the West, not the Rest, has ever engaged in slavery, imperialism and colonialism; and that victims always trump victimizers, even when the victim is actually the aggressor.
Every effort is now underway, not only to judge history, but to disappear as much of it as possible.
Disagree with any of this, and you're Out. History itself has been found guilty by this crowd and every effort is now underway, not only to judge it, but to disappear as much of it as possible.
Perhaps I'm something of a pioneer because I was first 'canceled' in 2002-03.
Please understand: I do not view myself as a victim for refusing to submit to politically correct speech codes or groupthink. I'm one of the lucky ones. Despite adversities, I've been writing for more than 50 years and I'm still at it.
Having chosen a life of ideas, I expected enlightened debate.
Leading authorities soon condemned my work. In-house disagreements among feminists came with the territory. We disagreed about class, race, religion, lesbianism, men, motherhood, pornography, prostitution and socialism.
Nevertheless, I was a trendy feminist icon, a 'public intellectual', garlanded not once, but twice, by front-page New York Times book reviews. I'd appeared on the cover of their magazine and on their bestseller lists. I was quoted in the Times all the time and in their counterpart media from coast to coast and all over Europe.
I soon learned that 21st-century 'de-platforming' was far different from any of the intellectual or political battles that I'd fought in the 20th century.
In 2003, I published The New Anti-Semitism, in which I dared to hold the Western 'progressive' intelligentsia responsible for collaborating with Islam's Big Lies about Israel and the Jews. I also suggested that in our time, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. In 2016, 13 years later, the US State Department — but not the chattering classes — agreed with this view.
This was the first book of mine that the Times chose not to review or to interview me about. So I wrote a letter to all Times's editors, asking whether they'd already reviewed too many other books on this subject or whether the issue simply wasn't timely. I jested, "Surely the reason cannot be that the author is a woman?"
The managing editor replied that if I was suggesting that the Times (or the editor of its Book Review) was anti-Semitic, then I'm a 'neurotic and paranoid woman'. I had not raised the issue of anti-Semitism in my letter.
Since The New Anti-Semitism, no book of mine has ever been reviewed in the Times.
From that time on, no book of mine has ever been reviewed in the Times.
I made new intellectual and political friends: conservatives, whom I found to be literate, tolerant and free-thinking. I began publishing where my work was wanted.
Many long-time left feminist colleagues refused to read a single word because I was now publishing with 'the enemy'.
I had never before faced riots on campus when I lectured. Beginning in 2003, that changed. While lecturing on another subject entirely, I was challenged about Israel/Palestine.
I spoke about apartheid and said I opposed it.
Clearly, they had not heard the truth before. The audience collectively gasped. Then, people went a little crazy. Everyone started yelling, cursing. The lightning rod of 'Palestine' was enough to turn a very friendly audience quite hostile and a bit unhinged.
The organizers hustled me out for my safety.
Remember, this took place 17 years ago.
Thereafter, I needed police protection on a number of campuses.
Then came the turned backs, the non-invitations, the attempts to have my talks cancelled, the disinvitations, and being purged from certain feminist listserv groups.
Just after I published The Death of Feminism (2005), I gave a lecture for the National Organization for Women. I spoke about the dangers of multi-cultural relativism. WBAI's radio crew thought I'd opposed multi-cultural diversity and presented an hour-long program that condemned me as a racist.
In 2013, something puzzling and peculiar happened. Book TV wanted to do a one-hour interview with me about my book An American Bride in Kabul. I agreed. Only then did they tell me that the interviewer would have to be one Golbarg Bashi, an Iranian-born professor. I said I'd get back to them in five minutes. I quickly discovered that she was married to Hamid Dabashi at Columbia and that both were ardently anti-Zionist. I'd also crossed swords with one of Bashi's mentors. How in God's name had Bashi been chosen? I said that any other Iranian-born professor would do but not this one. I did not want have this memoir hijacked by a fight about Israel-Palestine. The interview never took place.
In 2017, I was invited to speak about my four academic studies about honor killing at a conference at the University of Arkansas Law School. At the last minute, three professors, all pro-Palestine, pro-Islamist and anti-Israel, threatened violence if I were to appear — even if only via Skype. The administration folded and my host was forced to disinvite me.
Here's what I've learned.
You do not challenge any part of this politically correct madness without risking everything.
It's dangerous to critique any part of Islam or Muslim behavior, honor killing, pedophilia, homophobia, polygamy, forced marriage and the learned hatred towards infidels. It's unacceptable in the academy or in almost all mainstream media to praise anything that Israel has ever done, especially if it's true; to write that jihad is a religious commandment in Islam; to challenge the utter stupidity of identity politics and the consequent balkanization of reality; and to document that women, like men, have internalized sexism.
You also cannot oppose 'sex work' without being castigated as a 'transphobe' and anti-immigrant. Nor can you question the wisdom of legalized surrogacy without being viewed as anti-gay. You do not challenge any part of this politically correct madness without risking everything. I recommend that more of us do just that. Courage is now our only alternative.
Phyllis Chesler, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, is an emerita professor of psychology and women's studies and the author of eighteen books, including Women and Madness, Islamic Gender Apartheid, An American Bride in Kabul, and A Politically Incorrect Feminist.