Ep#77 – Leanne Scorzoni – Muslim Convert

I’ll be joined by Leanne Scorzoni (@LeanneScorzoni) on this week’s #GSPodcast. Leanne is a writer and self-described progressive Muslim feminist who converted to Islam in her adulthood. I’ll be trying to find out to what extent she believes in Islamic scripture and how it is compatible with her progressive values. We also touch on The Catholic Church, Charlie Hebdo and Womens’ rights.

Also available on iTunes and Stitcher.

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  • I really don’t want to be unkind to Leanne but she came across in your interview as a person who is really not interested in looking at how she came to form her god beliefs, islamic or otherwise, let alone discussing it openly on a podcast. I say this because she demonstrated this with nearly 2 hours of obfuscation. I’m going to encourage Thomas Smith to interview her on Atheistically Speaking (he has not done nearly enough penance for my liking).

  • I like your style Stephen. I think Dave Rubin has similar approach. Just let your guests speak, let them present the case. And sometimes they don’t seem have any case actually. Leanne strikes me as someone like that. All this long conversation could be boiled down to: I want to be controversial so I’ll adopt some conflicting identities and let others to fuel conversation by expressing any view which then I declare bigoted or at least shallow. Well done by avoiding massive straw man here. One of the first exchanges was: L – “I was dating all sorts of people”, S – “Is is something related to marriage then?”, L – “Why people always say that?”.

    Painful to hear as it was, it is still one of my favourites. When I arrived to UK I made this mistake few times: to ask my new Muslim colleagues about their beliefs, their culture. I learned quickly that this is serius taboo here, you simply don’t do this if you want to maintain decent relationships. So it was nice to see at least an attempt to discuss principles, even if it was failed attempt. So the question “how exactly is this idea peaceful” stays unanswered, at least to me.

  • I was reminded of a talk I once saw by Aron Ra in which he compared faith to ‘make-believe’. In the dressing up box of world religions I can see that Islam might have a certain exotic charm. Leanne seemed nonplussed by direct questions about what she believed and consistently failed to answer them but I felt I got closest to understanding her motivation when she described her simple enjoyment of Islamic rituals.

  • I agree with Geoff and Jan, this was a thoroughly futile attempt at a conversation, at least as far as I was able to endure (52 minutes). Leanne is to be commended on her ability not to answer questions while talking about herself at great length. She may have a future in politics.

  • Interesting if a tad frustrating to listen to. Having grown up lightly catholic but atheist now, I can still say I can understand the attraction of some of the rituals of a Catholic mass – the fact that it’s a fairly short discrete event, there are folks there with some measure of decorum (all in it together), familiar ritualistic music, a little lecture lesson that may or may not be useful and finally the ‘reward’ you’re trained around – the transmogrified cracker that signals A) you’re about to go home B) should make you feel relaxed and it’s a whole new ‘day’ (and week really as a Sunday :P). And there is comfort in repetition.

    So if you want to bail on the catholic church (and who wouldn’t), but also get some of those same feelings of being in a new group with a few new rituals you enjoy, but also not delving too deeply into defending or confronting the wild parts (in the way most mild born into it catholics ignore tons), I could see saying you’re joining islam. There is even a parallel in some of the ‘special effects’ between the religions- ancient catholic cathedrals for instance, or the blue mosque – impressive old buildings, neat art and poetry. An interest in other cultures and perhaps a decent dose of (subconscious) orientalism about the whole islam deal’s exoticism, and the internal drive to do it your own way that’s essentially disconnected from much of the world’s version could make it seem intriguing. Seems a bit disingenuous to me personally but I can see how it would work for someone.

  • I’ve been listening to your interviews for the last few months and, as Paweł Pajor has said, you and Dave Ruben are doing a fantastic job, please keep it up.

    Ms Scorzoni seems to really have no idea what the Islamic experience outside of the US is like other than amused stories about people she knows who tell her she has no idea what the Islamic experience is like outside of her little bubble. Yet this doesn’t seem to keep her for talking publicly about how her experience is so great as if she is an authority.

    If you are reading this Ms Scorzoni I would suggest you listen to your friends that are telling you your just appropriating a culture you know very little about beyond the Westernised Muslims you hang out with. Maybe before you speak out you could take a trip to some Islamic countries and see what women are forced to endure so that you can get a better picture. Or even just come up to Toronto and experience the part of the burgeoning Muslim population that has chosen not to integrate. Come in the late Summer and, if you’re lucky, you can see women forced to wear black burkas, accompanied by their golf shirt wearing husbands, going to beautiful places like Toronto Island, in near 40c 99% humidity weather (100f+-). You really have no idea. You’re like people who have said George Bush is a great guy to have a beer with at a BBQ, while ignoring the destruction he and his cronies wrought.

  • Love your podcast but that one was super annoying. How she is a Muslim–a very specific belief system–aside from some sort of SJW-like association is beside me. I did not hear her confirm any said beliefs.

    I converted to Islam around 15 years ago and have lost almost all of my faith in it. It was frustrating to hear someone with progressive values be so squirmy and unreflective about the doctrine she ascribes to. I can guess why though: those progressive values just aren’t there!

  • One of the most frustrating interviews I’ve listened to on the topic of conversion to Islam.

    Like Geoff Williamson, I don’t want to be unkind to Leanne but …
    I got the impression your guest is ‘playing at’ – albeit intensely and apparently sincerely – being a Muslim. Some people just feel lost without the trappings of belief and the actions and ceremony of a ‘tribe/family’. I suspect Leanne is one of those people.
    I wonder if there’s an element of rebellion involved in her choice of Islam. She certainly didn’t give any clear reason for choosing it over any other faith.

    I almost dare not say so, but it occurs to me that for an adult woman to choose Islam almost looks like an act of defiance; “OK … You don’t value women, but let’s see you succeed in making me feel like a second class human being!”

    Leanne, sounds as though she genuinely wants to be (or be thought of as being) a ‘good’ person. Perhaps she couldn’t stomach the full version of a misogynistic religion so she’s created her own Clayton’s Islam: ‘Islam Lite’.

    There was nothing she said – or that I can recally her saying – that made Islam seem like a logical, rational choice for her. She believes in a higher being. She believes death is not the end. Apart from that, zilch that would suggest that she could be satisfied with no other faith.

    I don’t wish to sound unkind, but I really did get the impression that she’s not a particularly deep thinker.

    And I got frustrated, too, with the number of ‘like’s she used. Yes, I know, I’m a cranky old lady who’s at that age when young people’s speech idiosyncracies become annoying but give me a break here; the word ‘like’ has become ‘filler’ for someone who has not thought out their philosophy to the point where they can clearly communicate it to others, who’s intimidated by the person they’re talking to, or who has never learned to properly use a language that is almost uniquely capable of fine specificity of meaning.

    ‘Like’ sprinkled liberally throughout a conversation – sometimes more than a couple of times per sentence – is so disruptive I can’t usually listen. But I persisted because I thought she’d eventually say something worth waiting for. Ha!

    At my age, there’s not enough lifetime left for bad coffee and inarticulate or duck-and-weave interviewees.

    I really do commend, you Stephen, for your patience. You hung on far longer than I could have.

  • It’s not for me to judge whether someone is a “real” Muslim or not but after listening to Leanne speak on the podcast I struggle to identify her as one. Furthermore her dodging questions and failing to give real substantial answers made this very frustrating to listen to.

  • Stephen, All I learned is that Leanne’s totally immersed in her own self and I find myself agreeing with most if not all of the comments above. Perhaps some credence should be given to the fact that she wants to liberalise Islam but she comes across as confused and almost child-like in her idealised views.

    Thanks for the interview, you deserve some kind of award for having to go through that nonsense.

  • Jónína Sólborg

    To me Leanne seems to be simply using Islam as a means to practice “spirituality” so to speak (in the broadest sense of the word). She says she knows the doctrine but doesn’t take it literally at all. It’s like the Quran is just another book to her, she reads it because that’s part of the religion *to read it* and she prays five times a day sort of like a Buddhist meditates. She already has her values (how she was raised) and instead of adopting the values of Islam itself, she applies her own personal values to Islam instead. She could have blindfolded herself and randomly picked whatever religious label to slap on to identify herself as. My follow up question to her would be something like “are you a Muslim as a social experiment and if so, is it an attempt to liberalize it from within or something like that?”

    • Yes, this thought occurred to me too. I suspect she is a liberal evangelist and she is trying to liberalize Islam from the inside by joining it. I don’t think she is calculating, but it need not be something that thought out. Just her true feelings – she sympathizes with this group – the new visitors and immigrants, and wants to join their culture and religion and perhaps steer it in her own direction while improving its image.

  • I don’t know how I was able to listen to the entire podcast. I would have to agree with the others who were also just waiting for the moment a question was actually answered and a breakthrough was made. It reminded me of interrogating a suspect who keeps dodging a question, and I was just waiting for the admission or acknowledgement of the facts to bring it all together.

    The moment I realized a self-identifying muslim was reluctant to say “Yes, I believe in Allah, the only god, and Mohammed is the prohpet” my hands started flailing. Leanne seems knowledgeable and has a broad spectrum of religious ideas. I think many of us (atheist / agnostics) at one time in our lives had that time where we sampled the other religions and ideas to see where we may fit in and eventually came to the conclusion there is no “fit” and we don’t have to fit anywhere in this category. From what I have heard from Leanne, I think she is in that stage where she has oddly decided to pick Islam for a bit without following any of it. Unless she continues to basically disregard nearly all the basic foundations of Islam, I don’t see her still being “muslim” 5 years from now.

    I was really disappointed in not hearing from a “feminist muslim”. I was pretty excited to hear a woman present and defend Islam while also advocating the empowerment or women. While I did expect the task to be difficult, I think it has some substance in the argument. Arguments I have heard include the fact that there have been many female muslim leaders (Oman with a female prime minister, Pakistan with female political leaders) compared to my country (USA) where we haven’t even had a female president, and the introduction of females in high positions such as Secretary of State, Speaker of the House has been fairly new on the timeline perspective. Arguments also get brought up how women in the middle east are oppressed with the burkas and lower class status, yet women in America are sexually objectified to the point where they cut up their bodies (cosmetic surgery) and install breast implants just to “improve” their status in society.

    While I would likely not believe the argument of a “feminist muslim”, I still would have loved to hear it and view the discussion with others.

    Please continue with your work, GS. Thank you

  • I think some of the comments here are bang on the money – in particular Carnicus and Fairlycirrus above.

    From what she said at the end of the interview, it seemed that she went into it thinking that she would be asked about specific examples of extremism, and that she would then be able to rebut it by saying ‘but not all muslims think that, many converts are liberal like me and favour a more allegorical and/or contextual reading of the koran’.

    This could have been interesting, especially if she could explain her re-interpretation in each instance. Similarly, she touched on the relationship between converts and born muslims, and their relative authority over the religion. This would also be an interesting discussion to listen to. However, it never got to that point because she couldn’t get past a basic explanation of her beliefs – she seemed impatient with the question, as though it was not particularly relevant.

  • Why did she keep complaining that you weren’t talking about what she wanted you to talk about? As the interviewer it is your prerogative to ask about the things in which you or your viewers are interested. She didn’t have an answer to your questions and so she complained about the questions. Yeah, not impressed.

  • One hour thirty-five minutes to finally hear her admit Mohammed was God’s messenger…. and I didn’t even believe her. There’s not a chance in hell she believes that. Please, Stephen…. do not accept her offer to return for more of this nonsense. And you sir, are a steely-eyed missile man for keeping your cool the way you did. I must say though, I was very glad you actually called her on her bullshit. Th Punk’d comment was AWESOME! lol.

  • I don’t want to be unkind either, but this is a pointless interview of a pointless person. She doesn’t answer a question; she imparts no knowledge or worthwhile view; she does not seem to realize that this vapid take on everything, does not make her part of anything. As an atheist, I hear testimony, usually second hand but sometimes first hand, and which I give little credence, by people whom I refer to as searchers. The testimony is always the same; “I was an atheist who still prayed every day, and then I thought I was a Buddhist, so i joined 4H, which of course meant I became a republican, until someone explained that I was really gay… whence, naturally I became an atheist all over again in a beautiful ceremony at my local synagogue… and then became a social worker, so that I can help other people find their way… like I finally did!” Not only do they not have an actual point to contend with, they don’t understand how one is formed. Thus, I change the subject to the weather, and within minutes I absent myself from them – permanently. The only thing worse than arguing with someone with a silly opinion, is to argue with someone who doesn’t even know how or what they think.

  • Aslan Award candidate?

  • Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh mannnnnnnnnnnnnn. That was asinine.

  • New listener and after 30 mins felt like the episode still had not really started and turned off.
    Have really enjoyed listening so far, but as Sam Harris recently did – If a guest is not producing anything interesting do not publish it. “In this space the biggest crime is being boring”

  • I’m 45 mins into it, but not sure if it’s worth persisting. The problem is that Leanne seems to be incapable of thinking beyond the personal, so she has no real insights to offer. It’s not ‘Islam Lite’ she’s following, it’s ‘Islam Wishy Washy’. If she could just follow one train of thought through to a conclusion, it would be easier to listen to.

  • phew, thank goodness that’s over! i actually literally shouted “NO” twice…both times when the guest suggested she could come and “do another podcast sometime”. But hats off to you interviewer, for me you had the absolute right balance of patience and straight talk.

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  • Just when I thought I recovered from this interview Sam released his with Maryam Namazie….I feel I’m inflicting some weird form of torture on myself.

    • I see what you mean. Sam’s conversation with Maryam’s excruciating too, but for different reasons. Hats off to both Stephen and Sam for their incredible patience and refusal to let their frustration take over.

    • So funny… I was thinking the same thing. I listened to them in the same order too.

  • I persisted with this interview because like many others I thought Leanne seemed “nice”. Her name an face are familiar to me but for the life of me I can’t figure out why? Anyway, after I commented on the GS Facebook page Leanne DM’d me to tell me I should listen to her discussion with Irish podcaster Andy O’Brien. I got about an hour in and stopped. I can see why she preferred that encounter as Andy didn’t press very hard and let her talk at length about her personal experience. But I wasn’t learning anything really and I while I don’t want to be unkind I am just going to be much more interested in the “personal experiences” of, say, an ex-muslim (or even a convert to Christianity or a Coptic sect even) who grew up in Pakistan or Bangladesh or Saudi. A white woman from Boston who had a kind upbringing and seems to be trying on Islam like a pair of comfy shoes just isn’t that interesting. Is that too harsh?

  • Switched from Catholic X to Catholic Y, but can’t articulate the difference. American religious dilettante. On the positive side, if her influence is half what she seems to think it is, she might make some contribution towards pushing the moderate dialogue. Maybe.

  • That was draining. I’d imagine that’s what it would feel like to wrestle an octopus covered in vegetable oil. This seemed to be an amalgamation of best intentions through a bad medium, combined with a ‘what does it all mean’ attitude. As previous comments mention, she seams like a ‘searcher’. A searcher in my opinion who had already made the conclusion that there is ‘something greater’ out there and just found a way to validate her ill informed opinion.

  • For most of the podcast, I wondered if this was some sort of performance art. Scorzoni even hesitated to endorse the Shahada! You summed it up perfectly when you said, “I feel like I’m being punked.”

    Scorzoni says she’s Muslim, and it would be impolite (and unproductive) contradict her. Still, once you had trouble pinning down her actual beliefs, I think it would have been helpful to figure out where she stands compared to the global Muslim population. For example, one could ask her:

    1. Do the majority of Muslims consider her a Muslim? (Almost certainly not.)
    2. Would Muhammad have considered her a Muslim? (Almost certainly not.)
    3. Does she think non-Muslims go to Hell? (I’m not even sure she thinks Hell exists.)

    Once you had answers, it would be clear how disconnected she is from the Muslim world, and you could wrap things up. There’s little point in interviewing such a wishy-washy adherent.

  • That was incredibly painful. I’m embarrassed for her. Why is she being interviewed at all? How was she chosen out of the mass of lost people in the world?

    She seems desperate to be listened to. She seems to be someone who needs attention and has gotten it by converting to Islam. I disagree that she is smart. She seems not bright and thrilled that someone thinks she’s important to interview so can’t stop talking at you. She won’t answer a question directly, willfully misunderstands questions, and acts like you don’t know anything about religions. I bet she never gets to talk about herself that much in real life. I can’t even.

  • It sounded to me like she could turn to Jedi next year, then go Mormon, then in ten years be a Trekkie. Or something. And then I doubt she could explain why for each and every one.

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  • I’m glad I read the interesting comments first, I probably won’t listen to the interview now. I think we’d all like to hear from progressive muslim women, has anyone suggestions for Steven to interview?
    Keep up the good work.

  • Leanne reminds of a spoiled rich girl that wanted to upset her parents by dating someone from the other side of the tracks. Nothing more. I would have much more respect for her if she actually attended the Mosques that made her enter from the side, and separated the women from the men. There is nothing “brave” about being a woman attending the most progressive Mosques in existence. Feminist Muslim? Please.

  • Reminds me of the high school kids who think they’re Buddhist just because they do yoga, yet eat meat and party hard. It makes them “edgy” and “interesting”, at least they think it does. Does she eat pork? Doesn’t really mean anything, and is misleading to call yourself “Muslim” (a convert, no less!) if you don’t even take the book and tenets seriously. Though, I’m sure she gets tons of brownie points and sympathy from the PC folk – good an incentive as any for some to “convert”. I’m sure she’s a nice person, but there’s something to be said for intellectual honesty.

  • I wasn’t going to say anything, but since Leanne continues to engage Stephen on twitter — insinuating that this garbage is his fault, here we go — my opinion.

    I tried to make it through this podcast, but I failed. I was listening with my wife and her college student son, who lasted about 15 minutes then bailed to go do homework. My wife and I, regular GSC listeners, continued to listen, but my wife dozed off. I made it 40 minutes, then skipped ahead to 30 minutes before the end, heard the same twaddle and skimmed to the end (skim, twaddle, skim, twaddle, etc), disappointed.

    People on twitter seem to be harping about how Leanne couldn’t answer a question, but what I heard was worse. You can hear her choppy thought patterns come right out of her mouth. It reminds me of my son when he was five, and every little thought flowed brain cell to mouth. She did not demonstrate that she can construct and communicate a train of thought. I found this to be un-listenable.

    Stephen, as always, was polite and completely patient. He was far more patient than I would have been. If I had been the host this interview would not have lasted more than 30 minutes. Stephen let Leanne spew on and on and on for somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. I guess nobody’s perfect.

    As an aside, I’ve seen several tweets from Leanne claiming that Stephen’s audience is primarily from the UK. I don’t know whether or not this is true, and if it is, I don’t know why it matters, but I am a native citizen of the USA and I’ve listened to every one of Stephen’s podcasts (except this one), and I support him on Patreon. If she’s trying to claim some sort of cultural bias that led to the interview being a failure (I am only guessing; I cannot fathom what she believes or is trying to say), I say no. She is the reason the interview was a failure. She is nearly incoherent. She said several times “I will go mental on you”. Yup.

  • You know that bit at the end of Apocalypse Now when Brando says to Sheen ‘You find my method unsound?’ and Sheen replies ‘I don’t see any method at all.’ It was worth listening to as an illustration of someone who wants to be controversial but isn’t. He defused her perfectly. She had very little to say. And took forever to say it. She knows nothing and should keep it to herself.

What do you think? Leave some comments!