Video footage has emerged of a prominent British atheist YouTuber describing Somali Muslim women who wear the burqa as “women in bags”.
Alex J. O’Connor, who is better known by his YouTube channel name, “Cosmic Skeptic,” made the slur in June 2017 during a conversation with fellow atheist apologist “Rationality Rules”.
In the clip, he cites the well-known American Islamophobe Sam Harris before saying: “If I went into Somalia and said you shouldn’t be putting women in bags… they’d accuse you of cultural imperialism” – at which point the questioner continues listening and engaging without addressing the slur.
After this footage recently resurfaced online, Muslim apologists took to social media to condemn the atheist YouTuber’s offensive comment.
The well-known Muslim debater and author, Mohammed Hijab, asked whether O’Connor was a “colonial imperialistic style racist” and invited Somali women to respond to the statement.
Regarding O’Connor’s choice of words, Hijab said in a video response: “Why use the word ‘bags’? Isn’t a bag something which is used for inanimate objects? Why use dehumanising references when referring to black Muslim women?”
Although O’Connor may have quoted or paraphrased Sam Harris, the language of “Muslim women in bags” are tropes which O’Connor has used in the past.
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In 2017, O’Connor released a reaction video to the BBC titled “A note on women in bags,” which he later changed to “A note on the niqab.”
During a recent live online discussion with Subboor Ahmad of IERA and the Darwinian Delusions channel, O’Connor admitted that choosing “women in bags” for a video title was not “conducive behaviour,” but refused to acknowledge that his words were widely perceived by black African Muslim women as racist and Islamophobic.
The controversy surrounding O’Connor’s statements on the niqab and his reluctance to apologise has re-ignited an online debate pertaining to the normalisation of racist and anti-Muslim tropes commonly associated with the far-right.
In December 2019, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised for describing Muslim women who wear the niqab to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers.”
O’Connor, who has shared platforms with leading new atheist figures such as Richard Dawkins, has more than 330,000 subscribers on YouTube channel where he has racked up millions of views.
5Pillars has contacted Mr O’Connor for comment and await his reply.