Discover more from Hold That Thought by Sarah Haider
Here we go...
Announcing the (re)launch of my newsletter Hold That Thought
I have some great news. After making some significant changes in my life in the past year, today, I am proud to (re)launch my newsletter Hold That Thought on Substack.
Here’s why I’m excited about this, and why I hope you’ll join me on this journey.
How it started
Most of you reading this will know my story, but in case you do not, here it is.
I began to participate in the public space when I co-founded a nonprofit - Ex-Muslims of North America. Leaving religion is always a difficult journey, but for those who leave Islam, it can be downright dangerous. Our aim with the new organization was simple: mitigate the costs of leaving the faith and build tolerance for doubt within Muslim communities.
I was too young at the time to really understand how difficult a task I had taken on. I thought, extremely naively, that persuasion was mostly presenting people with facts. Once received, reason and good sense would do the rest. Unknowingly, I had adopted a crude version of the rational choice theory, and attempted to adapt it to the activist space.
But the interesting thing about activism is that because it is goal oriented - one is forced to grapple with reality. And it became clear, very quickly, that my theories were not surviving impact with the real world.
Since then, I have been thinking a lot about how we come to adopt ideas - particularly the role external factors can play in shaping how and what we believe. I’ve also been thinking about the role of identity, tribal affiliation, and class incentives in forming and distorting our ability to uncover what is true. Finally, I’m very interested in determining how laws, policies, and even norms of speech and conduct can foster healthy discourse.
And because I’m an activist, all this is not just in service of pure curiosity (although that does drive much of what I write and think about). I want to work for a better world, and understand what prevents us from getting there.
Like many of you, I both hate Twitter but can’t seem to give it up.
It is actually quite remarkable the way the mechanics of Twitter exploit our worst instincts. If I was more conspiracy-minded, I might have thought that it was a deliberate operation to drive us all insane.
As I am not, I will settle for the (arguably more discomfiting) reality - that our current social media hellscape is simply the next step in our technological march forward.
But despite everything, Twitter has expanded my intellectual horizons.
Immeasurably, in fact. I’ve had fantastic conversations, discovered incredible people, and explored new ideas together with hundreds of captivating people - all without the interference of an editor or employer.
But the limit to such spaces is that the conversations are limited in length, transitory - and worst of all - easily hijacked by the desire to perform for an audience that rewards humiliating others and denying nuance.
Meanwhile, the administrators of all social media companies are fast expanding the boundaries of what they consider “harmful” speech.
In such a space, I find myself often waiting for the other shoe to fall.
Meanwhile, Substack has taken a different tact, very publicly. Which makes me excited to take this step with them.
The right way this time
Some of you might remember that I tried to do this thing a little while back - but unfortunately, life got in the way, and health issues disrupted my plans. (And for my OG paying subscribers - another heartfelt thank you. You should have received a comped subscription, if I missed you, please email me!)
The good thing is that the time spent recovering has allowed me to reflect on what I was doing and why.
I think that originally, I was motivated too much by the desire to build a cocoon for myself - somewhere I could go to think and explore and share my views without fear.
For nearly a decade, I had worked uphill on behalf of an extremely misunderstood, vilified, and persecuted population. While Western progressives dismissed ex-Muslims as hateful and divisive for our views on Islam, we faced abuse from our families and communities, and outright persecution in much of the Muslim world.
I worked hard to build an organization in this climate - and it wasn’t (isn’t) easy. It is hard to find support and be heard while you are vilified, it is even harder if you also have to worry about fundamentalists threatening your life.
At the same time, I worked to build a public presence that was more than complete infamy. And after many years of small but treasured victories - it was beginning to pay off. I was being taken seriously by more serious people. I admit that I didn’t want to lose the credibility I had fought so hard for, and the power it brings to do good in the world.
But… I also didn’t want to censor myself. A private space to write, where I could explore my more controversial views among a friendly group, seemed a perfect solution.
But these last two years have rekindled what the tiny modicum of success and respectability had taken from me.
I don’t want this to be a place to hide from the mob. I want to use the shelter Substack can provide to speak up: louder and more often.
In this pandemic we’ve seen what happens when narrative becomes more important than reality, when tribalism blinds countless to common sense, and how swiftly bad thinking translates to bad policy.
It was a reminder that there are more important things to lose than respect in the eyes of a society driven mad.
So it is with renewed spirit that I delve back into free and fearless inquiry.
What you will receive
I expect to post fairly frequently - with one essay per week, and a few shorter posts throughout.
Initially, I will make almost all my posts free to the public, but over time some posts will be behind the paywall - with the explicit goal of building an engaged, curious, and rational space for thought.
For paying subscribers I also plan to publish a variety of less polished thoughts, continuations of other conversations and discussion (like input from readers!), answers to your questions, and extended commentary on external media appearances.
All in all - I’m very excited, and I hope you will join me!