Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Why is a role model reviled?

March 30, 2015 • 9:00 am

Predictably, with the publication of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, her critics are dragging out all the old canards they used to discredit her. One of the most vicious summaries is Max Blumenthal’s piece at Alternet, “Exposing anti-Islam author Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest deception.” It faults her for claiming that 70% of violence in the world is caused by Muslims (yes, an erroneous claim, but see below), for “her increasingly vitriolic tirades against Islam and its adherents” (she reserves what “vitriol” she has, and I haven’t seen any, for jihadist extremists and Muslim mistreatment of women), and for lying on her immigration application for the Netherlands—something she freely admits in her previous book Nomad, and which the Dutch government was fully aware of when she was in Parliament.

Blumenthal’s criticisms are demolished in an article in The Spectator by Daniel Mael, “In defence of Ayaan Hirsi Ali,” who makes many of the points I note above, and also faults Blumenthal for being on the wrong side of the moral divide:

We may wonder what exactly Max Blumenthal has against Ali’s call for a Muslim Reformation as a way of freeing Muslim women from the oppression and segregation of sharia law. We may wonder why he directs his fire against her rather than against, say, the murderers of Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Perhaps it is for the same reason that last year he took the Kremlin’s side against the Ukrainian “Maidan” revolution: the strange mixture of idiocy and pathology that in each generation makes a few Jews join the side they have most reason to fear.

And about that “70% figure,” it’s been corrected already (how many activists do you know that will even clarify something like this?). Mael:

Blumenthal zones in on a single misstep during her appearance on the “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. On air she mistakenly claimed that Muslims are “responsible” for “70 percent of the violence in the world today.” She meant to say that “70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims,” as she wrote in the Wall Street Journal—where she also made the point that by far “the most numerous victims of Muslim violence—including executions and lynchings not captured in these statistics—are Muslims themselves.” She told me:-

“On TV I wrongly said Muslims were ‘responsible’ when I should have said Muslims were ’involved’. It was nerves and fatigue. My whole point is that we need an Islamic Reformation precisely because most victims of violence committed in the name of Islam are in fact Muslims.”

Indeed, if we want a strong, articulate voice against extremist and bellicose Islam—and, with the exception of nuts like Blumenthal, I think most of us do—you couldn’t ask for a better voice than Hirsi Ali’s. She was raised a devout Muslim, went to a madrassa in Saudi Arabia (where she lived in Mecca), and dressed in a burqa. She knows  Islam in both theory and practice. She is a woman, and so has extra credibility when she speaks about the systematic mistreatment of women by both radical and moderate Islam. She is black, which should endear her to those who equate pigmentation with oppression and hence with added credibility. And, most of all, she is brave, articulate, and a tireless activist who, in her new book, calls not for the elimination of Islam but for its reform. I am 50 pages into that 200-page book, and so far am enjoying it immensely. But Islamophiles like Blumenthal won’t.

Hirsi Ali’s activism has earned her a multitude of death threats from Muslims. For the rest of her life, she must travel with a two-man security guard. She accepts that as the result of her views, and moves on.

So, given her history, character, and genuine (rather than keyboard) activism, and her devotion to the cause of democracy and women’s rights, why is she so reviled by the Left? (Alternet also named her one of “The 5 most awful atheists,” an assessment approved by atheist blogger P.Z. Myers.) I can think of only two reasons. First, she is a vociferous critic of Islam, now mistakenly perceived by the Left as an underdog faith, and hence a religion that must be defended at all costs. Second, she refuses to assume the mantle of victimhood. She is indeed a victim of Islam—one who has suffered mightily from discrimination, genital mutilation, forced marriage, and now death threats—but she takes all that with equanimity and goes on fighting. She’s focused not on her own status as “victim,” but on the cause; and that rubs some on the Left the wrong way, for those people want the political channeled through the personal. Of course I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.

In my view, Hirsi Ali should be admired and invited to speak everywhere, rather than reviled and prevented from speaking. We all know how Brandeis University, to its eternal shame, first offered her an honorary degree and an invitation to speak at its convocation, and then revoked those offers. (This was after Brandeis was importuned by a consortium of Muslims, feminists, and blacks, an alliance that truly puzzles me.) But at last, with this new book, she is getting some press, although much of it is from right-wing venues.

First, there’s a somewhat disjoined interview with Tunku Varadarajan in the New York Times, “A fiery dissenter rethinks her views.” Although the interviewer isn’t that great, if you can’t or don’t want to read her book, it’s a good summary of Hirsi Ali’s views. By “rethinking”, Varadarajan means that Hirsi Ali is now calling for the moderate Muslims (which Hirsi Ali calls “Mecca Muslims,” from Muhammad’s not-so-violent period), to listen to the dissident, reformist Muslims so we can marginalize the third group, the violent faction that Hirsi Ali calls “Medina Muslims.”

Here are just a few excerpts from the Times interview. In the first, the interviewer summarizes the five reforms that Hirsi Ali sees as necessary to defang extremist Islam. She’s optimistic that they will happen; I’m not. From Varadarajan:

In her new book, she offers five “amendments” to Islam, some of which are breathtaking in their sweep. Muslims must abandon their belief that the Mohammad was infallible and that the Quran is the literal word of God; life on earth must mean more than the afterlife; secular law must trump the Shariah; clerics should have no power to enforce law; and jihad must be abandoned. All of these changes would lead to a revolution in Islam, and would forever break the grip of Muslim hardliners.

Hirsi Ali sees actual combat against jihadists as ultimately doomed to failure, and she’s right, for they’ll keep springing up like the heads of the Lernaean Hydra:

WITW [Women in the World]: Is this ultimately about persuasion? Is that what you mean when you say that the battle against groups like ISIS cannot be won by physical war alone?

AHA: You can’t bomb bad ideas out of people’s heads. You can bomb the outfit, the organization in Iraq and Syria, and I’m confident that if we were really serious about this, we could eliminate ISIS. But that doesn’t eliminate Islamic extremism in all its forms. If you don’t eliminate Islamic extremism, when ISIS dies, you’re just going to have another organization like it. You have ISIS now, you have Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, even Hamas. So an alphabet soup of organizations and movements, one more lethal than the other.

On Obama’s (and other leaders’) refusal to acknowledge that ISIS and radical jihadism are truly driven by Islam:

 [AHA]: Leaders insist that we are not at war with Islam, we are not at war with Islam, we are not at war with Islam. That may be so, and I don’t think that the West is at war with Islam. But what if key leaders of the Islamic world proclaim that they’re at war with us, and do so in the name of Islam?

Even countries like Saudi Arabia, (allegedly our ally for decades), have been waging ideological war against us in the name of Islam. It’s beginning to sound absurd, as most generalists now know, to keep on insisting that ISIS is not Islamic.

WITW: I think all sentient beings can agree that nobody believes it when the President says things like this. There must be some political reason for him to use this device.

AHA: Yeah. And it’s insulting because he’s saying: “I’m not at war with Islam.” But he’s bombing Muslim countries. Sorry—it just comes across as insincere, and I think that that will provoke the question: “Who do you take us for?”

Finally, on why the Left hates her:

WITW: Brandeis University last year offered you an honorary degree and then withdrew the offer after protests by the faculty. How do you explain the failure of Western liberals to side with you? What you’re calling for is a reform that would lead to the freedom from oppression of half of the Muslim world, and to see the end of stoning for homosexuality, and yet feminist and gay groups can be vociferous in their opposition to you and others who support this message.

AHA: It’s a very loud minority, these relativists and, I think, remnants of communism and socialism in all its worst forms, who are too comfortable in their positions as tenured professors, and in the very institutions and the very countries, Western countries, free countries, that they incite and constantly mock and deride. They live here for a reason. I would say multiculturalism and cultural relativism, two forms of moral vanity, are also a form of cultural and moral suicide, and it’s showing. They’re being confronted now with the fact that there are good ideas and bad ideas. They are not all equal, and religions are not equal, and groups are not equal, and cultures are not equal, and civilizations are not equal. So if they can stay with just the basic premise that only human beings are equal, then, yeah it would help, but a very loud minority indeed.

To end, below is Hirsi Ali’s interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News. Kelly did a far better job than Jon Stewart, who tried to argue that Islam is no worse than any other faith, and that even without Islam and other religions, people would still be doing exactly the same amount of bad stuff. It’s a shame that it’s mainly the right-wing interviewers who give Hirsi Ali (and criticism of Islam) a fair shake, for I intensely dislike being in bed with conservatives. (Unlike Stewart, Kelly at least lets Hirsi Ali put forth her ideas.)  The contrast this between this and Stewart’s interview is a disturbing sign of how badly the Left has been hijacked by its penchant for political correctness and its fear of offending the supposed underdog.

The last half of the interview is especially impressive:

h/t: Diane G., Barry

144 thoughts on “Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Why is a role model reviled?

  1. “It’s a shame that it’s mainly the right-wing interviewers who give Hirsi Ali (and criticism of Islam) a fair shake, for I intensely dislike being in bed with conservatives.” My feelings exactly!

    1. exactly what I was going to say. As an ex-fundie who suffered violence in childhood, I no longer identify with the left in its treatment of this topic. It is heartbreaking.

      1. It appears that variety of lestists are abandoning the humanist outlook otherwise they would be condemning the abhorrent behaviour of Islamic extremists who commit crimes against humanity by keeping to a strict form of Islam based on words within the Koran itself. It’s like leftists supporting the Confederate States of America (“well, maybe we should let them alone with their slaves, after all that’s soooo much better than getting blood on our hands fighting them”), or the Nazis, Stalin or Pol Pot. Any “underdog” loses my sympathy the moment it takes up imposing tyranny on others and murdering people who have not committed any genuine wrong against anyone. Making people feel bad because of their own atrocious behavior has never been a legitimate cause to kill anyone. Blumenthal should be ashamed of himself that he’s more concerned about Ali’s “crime” that hurt no one and for which any rational person would agree was entirely justified, than about the murders and other violent crimes committed by Muslim extremists.

        1. “It appears that variety of leftists are abandoning the humanist outlook…”

          That’s a very good point, and emphasizing it would be a good way to respond to the SJWs when they presume to have the moral high ground.

    1. And for those that follow tw**tr Harris took Blumenthal to the woodshed personally for his mischaracterizations of himself and Hirsi Ali. Offered a !0K challenge.

  2. I,too, am very uncomfortable about being “in bed” with conservatives. And I don’t really think I am since the basis of their hostility to Islam is largely religious bigotry instead of clear-headed criticism of the horrors of religious thinking in general.

    1. Bang on, GBJ and Jerry. As a Socialist: and I hope more Socialists stand between Hirsi Ali and those who wish to kill her.

      It’s easy to misspeak in the pressure of an interview re: the 70% figure.

      Remember Sam Harris? He meant to say, “Islam is A motherlode of bad ideas.” Which he corrected online.

      Allele akhbar. x

        1. As someone who would quite happily accept the label of “conservative” on a good many issues, I find this horror of being on the same side as people like me quite puzzling. Does it never occur to you that if you find yourself “in bed” with conservatives on an important issue such as this, then it might be a sign that those awful conservatives are actually right about some things, and perhaps you might benefit from reconsidering some of your other views??

          I’m as hardcore an atheist as you’ll find around here, so I can assure you that my loathing of Islam is emphatically not based on holding to a rival version of religious bigotry.

          1. The sad thing is, most if not all of the criticism of the intolerant, authoritarian left is currently coming from rightwing sources such as Breitbart.

            The left only criticizes its own in order to accuse them of being bigots, etc.

            The Breitbart articles are pretty good too.

          2. You make a good point. We’re all doctrinaire about something.

            But it’s by and large the conservative side of the aisle that brings us things like Citizens United, global warming, privatization of education and services that should be universal, dismantling of environmental protections, non-living wages, the death penalty, poor regulation of firearms, voter-suppression campaigns, most xenophobia and saber-rattling, and Bill O’Reilly.

            What horseshit do liberals come up with? Anti-blasphemy laws, cultural relativism, post-modernism, political-correctness, PZ Myers…

            Conservatism the way it’s going today in the US is in danger of becoming the Islam of political philosophy. If you have any ideas on how to bring us back to the days of Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, even Barry Goldwater conservatism, I’d probably be happy to call myself conservative about some issues, too.

            1. There are so many false assumptions here it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s just talk about private education. There is no conflict at all between having private enterprise and markets provide services that are furnished and funded publicly. If markets and competition can inject responsibility and accountability into the school system then , if you care about better schools, you should applaud that. It’s not even particularly novel: private organizations, such as teacher unions, already play a role.
              But I don’t want to derail the thread.

            2. Strange that even Mr. Conservative himself, Barry Goldwater, now seems far more moderate compared to many modern U.S. conservatives.

    2. Well, perhaps this highlights an important difference between us. I am on the right side of the spectrum, but I am not the least bit uncomfortable “being in bed” with leftists who stand up for Hirsi Ali, or open debate, or telling the truth about Islam (and other religions). I’ll fight a good fight with any ally.

      In general a problem in the West today is that too many people see and use politics as an extension of their self-image. Politics is rarely about policy. This happens on both sides of the spectrum, but to me it seems a bigger problem on the left.

      1. You are, apparently, one of a rather small minority, IMO… a conservative atheist. Your views do not dominate the right side of the political spectrum here in the US.

        I’m a left-leaning person who consistently argues against the mistaken Islamo-apologetic views of liberals who I otherwise generally agree with. While Islamophilia does seem more a problem in the liberal community hostility to Islam on the right is largely wrapped up in flag-waving Christianity. It is that fact that causes discomfort for folk like me.

        I think that liberals like me, who doggedly stand up for freedom of thought, find ourselves “in bed” with people like Megan Kelly by happenstance. The right, as represented by Fox News Conservatives, find themselves at a more-or-less correct endpoint for the wrong reasons. They are incapable of recognizing their own theocratic tendencies or of calling out what is, in fact, Christo-terrorism when it happens.

    3. And doesn’t that just make it all suck so much worse? We appear to agree with Conservatives on the surface, but dig a little and you’ll find a lot of yucky stuff that could get splashed on us!

  3. Someone who thinks/says that Bibi should get a Nobel Peace Prize is not someone I can take seriously. And certainly not someone I would ever admire.

    1. Yes, certainly, because she says one thing you disagree with, you have the right to discount everything she ever says–forever. Isn’t that convenient to have a reason to dismiss her new book and her long fight for women’s equality under Islam? Yes, her new book is just garbage because of that statement, and we can’t take that seriously. Too right.

      Give me a break.

      I’m sorry, but lots of people, including me, have said dumb things, and I don’t find that a compelling reason to ignore everything they say. That’s just a form of prejudice, a too-convenient excuse, and a denial of people’s weaknesses. I suppose because Hitchens supported the Iraq war we can never take anything he said after that seriously. I suspect you are just looking for a reason to dislike Ali.

      And I suspect that you, over your whole life, have said at least one incredibly dumb thing, and therefore we should ignore what you say from now on. Shouldn’t we? Can we really take you seriously, including what you said above?

      1. I’m not discounting what she says. I just choose to exclude her one voice – one of scores of voices in the public arena – from my personal life. I read people I disagree with but she isn’t and won’t be one of them.

        At the same time I don’t begrudge her the right to say and publish whatever she wants and neither do I begrudge people the right to listen to her and agree with her.

        1. It’s worse to exclude than to discount, because you simply won’t read her, despite her unique experience and position to criticize Islam. And really, because she made a comment about Netanyahu? Or are there other reasons to “exclude her one voice?”

          You know, I differ violently with people like Ross Douthat, who regularly says things much dumber than the Nobel Prize remark, but I still read him, for he might sometimes say something good; and at any rate it’s useful to hone your arguments against opponents by seeing what they say. By choosing to “exclude her one voice,” you’re only hurting yourself, and demonstrating yourself as close-minded.

          1. One needs to limit the input at some point or else one risks drowning. I simply chose to draw the line with her (and I imagine tons of others).

            And btw, yes, I find that Bibi remark really offensive. But it was not the cause of my drawing the line.

            1. All these different views, and ideas out there. Best to limit your input to those people with whom you always agree on, right?

              1. I live under a rock. Can I get some help? What comment(s) by AHA has earned her Inga’s everlasting revulsion? Who is Bibi and what is The Bibi Remark?

                I am very curious. Based on my experiences of AHA I can’t imagine any way that Inga’s response to AHA is reasonable.

    2. Well, I do not know why and in what circumstances she said that, but if Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger, Jassir Arafat and Menachem Begin, and Barack Obama were worthy of this illustrious prize, so why not Netanyahu?

    1. Megyn Kelly is actually generally very good – don’t let her membership of the Fox stable fool you.

      As I’ve mentioned several times, I watch a fair bit of Fox for several reasons. One is just that it’s good to know what those I mostly disagree with are saying, so I can pre-empt their arguments. Not all their presenters are like O’Reilly, Hannity and Huckabee, none of whom I can bear to watch. Some of them, like Kelly, are very smart and talented. I don’t agree with all she says, but there are even things I disagree with PCC on! (We’ve discussed soccer before!)

  4. That’s what apologist zealots like Reza Aslan and Cenk Uygur do (yes, they both enthusiastically retweeted the misbegotten hit-piece on Ayaan). Whenever anyone focuses on the problem of Islamism, they always come up with some red herring.

    When Ayaan Hirsi Ali proposes solutions to limit the abuses committed by Muslims in the name of their god, they will talk about how Ayaan lied 12 years ago? on her immigration application.

    If anyone points to anything bad resulting from the application of sharia, or any other Islam-based doctrine, they will say about how Christianity was/is bad.

    This video exposes the disingenuousness of their tactic nicely.

    1. It’s easier to attack one’s apparent allies than it is to actually criticize dangerous islamists.

      And I think that Reza Aslan just likes to attack those more famous than him so that he can improve his own “brand” exposure. He is an opportunistic arse

    2. Sam Harris recently tweeted something to the effect of “Didn’t Cenk learn anything from our 3 hour conversation?”

      I guess not.

      1. _Every_single_argument_ Cenk Uygur makes in this video is absolutely demolished by the guy who’s made the YT clip, for its complete inanity and irrelevancy. I’m seriously shocked at the shallowness and incoherency of Cenk Uygur’s “analysis.” He’s equating, for example, civilian casualties during war time, with DELIBERATE acts of jihadi terrorism explicitly targeting citizens (e.g. 9/11, Boston Marathon Bombing, etc). And he’s the one who speaks about the purported “logical inconsistency” in the carefully thought out arguments of people like Sam Harris.

    3. I love that Sam Harris called Azlan and Greenwald “mendacious”. It’s the perfect word for them when they behave this way.

  5. The conservative position is preoccupied with increased incidents of terrorism in the states and potential threats to American exceptionalism; whereas the primary concern (on all sides of the sociopolitical spectrum) should be how to best alleviate an ongoing humanitarian crisis while preventing its recurrence. To paraphrase MLK, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

  6. I have two quibbles. First, with Mr. Mael, as I don’t see the value of the comment about “the strange mixture of idiocy and pathology that in each generation makes a few Jews join the side they have most reason to fear.” I take this as dismissive of a diverse history of activist Jews, and also a form of psychoanalysis or mind-reading that only serves to demean Mr. Blumenthal; I think Mr. Blumenthal’s own words do accomplish that well enough, without the commentary.

    Second, as to Ms Ali’s criticism of PBO’s “not at war with Islam” position: I don’t feel it’s the job of a secular government to be “at war” with an ideology or religion, per se – except as far as it is at war with ISIS-ism or Al-Qaeda-ism by way of undercutting their credibility, funding and recruiting methods for example. The “hot” part of the war is about targets and territory, and the provocation for action is the behavior of the opposing side, whatever their motivations. Ms Ali knows first-hand the mindset of Islamists so I am thinking seriously about her positions, but I don’t follow how we get from an acknowledgment that the West is not at war with Islam to a criticism of Western leaders for making the same assertion.

    1. “Ms Ali knows first-hand the mindset of Islamists so I am thinking seriously about her positions, but I don’t follow how we get from an acknowledgment that the West is not at war with Islam to a criticism of Western leaders for making the same assertion.”

      My interpretation of AHA’s respones on that question (could of course be wrong)is that she may agree with you. As far as “getting to criticism of Western leaders” she said . . .

      “Even countries like Saudi Arabia, (allegedly our ally for decades), have been waging ideological war against us in the name of Islam. It’s beginning to sound absurd, as most generalists now know, to keep on insisting that ISIS is not Islamic.”

      I don’t see a problem with this. She seems to be saying, “OK, we are not at war with Islam, but we are at war with some Islamic people.” Which is in direct contrast with the Obama White House’s message, “We are not at war with Islam and these people we are at war with are not Islamic.”

      The Obama message is “Islam is not a factor here.” AHA is saying “that is wrong, it most certainly is a factor.”

      1. Fair enough. Of course, George Bush used the same rhetoric and I don’t recall anyone on Fox saying he was “insincere” for drawing a distinction between real Muslims and not-real ones. That may neither be here nor there, and I may well be overreacting to her last, very dismissive comment, being in the tank as I am for Obama.

        The U.S. Is cooperating with Iran (an Islamic state) to prop up Iraq (a Muslim nation) and the surrounding region (Muslim nations all, excepting of course Israel) by destabilizing ISIS (an extremist Islamic organization). Whatever Ms Ali’s take on this, what I’m not hearing is a realistic script for what the U.S. should instead be saying, and also not hearing what would be different in terms of military response were ISIS, for example, a secular fascist organization.

        So the disconnect for me remains in agreeing the West is not “at war with Islam” but having no better idea as to what rhetoric would be an honest assessment of the role of Islam while remaining a viable realpolitik position.

        1. Remember that the primary goal of her new book and speaking engagements is to emphasize the necessity of reforming Islam itself; she wants to plant some ideas in the minds of the “Mecca Muslims” to bring about change for the better. The “script” she’s most concerned about is the reformation of a benighted religion, not so much “what the U.S. should be saying.” But of course interviewers will invariably bring the discussion back to that arena.

      2. She has the luxury to say that…he doesn’t. There are more than 1 billion peaceful muslims in the world, as acknowledged by AHA herself. Obama doesn’t need to make them enemies as well.

        1. Yes, and sometimes it’s most tactical to let others speak out on the more controversial topics. I would be surprised if he were ever to refer critically to Hirsi Ali, but there’s always the chance that the conservative media could start hounding him about it, and then–who knows.

        2. This seems like a non sequitur to me. I made no comment in support or against either Obama’s or Ali’s (as I interpreted her comments) position.

          Moving on, you seem to be saying that Obama and Ali both have reasonable cause for their positions. But the way you chose to write it suggests to me you may be judging who has the moral high ground here? And coming down in favor of Obama?

          You might need to explain how the Obama messeging on this is the only way, or even the best way, to ensure that he doesn’t make enemies of all the peaceful muslims in the world. And before that maybe show that it is a problem that needs to be addressed by any messaging other than straight talk in the first place.

          My opinion. Obama should not be talking about religion period, except when responding to direct questions about it. In those cases the general message of his responses should be that no, we are not at war with Islam, yes ISIS is Islamic. The billion peaceful muslims are more likely to be influenced by their own interpretations of the US’s actions than by Obama’s messaging, particularly in the longer run.

            1. Yes. Serious as a fucking heart attack. If your comment was directed at post #10 then fine. If it was directed at my response to post #10, which I presumed since that is the order it was in, then yes. Non sequitur.

              1. What’s with the hostility? I was responding to you as well as the latter part of post #10 . Maybe you should calm down a bit.

              2. You have misinterpreted me. I am perfectly calm. I am capable of responding to one exclamatory cliche with another without getting upset. Heck, without even claiming your being unduly emotional or attempting to patronize you.

  7. “I would say multiculturalism and cultural relativism, two forms of moral vanity, are also a form of cultural and moral suicide, and it’s showing.”

    Speaking as a Canadian, and someone in favour of Islamic reformation, against the censorship of Brandeis, appalled by the political correctness of the left… I have to say that calling “multiculturalism” a form of “moral suicide” is an idiotically right-wing think to say. I can understand what AHA is trying to get across, but that is an embarrassingly clumsy way to do it.

    “It’s a shame that it’s mainly the right-wing interviewers who give Hirsi Ali (and criticism of Islam) a fair shake, for I intensely dislike being in bed with conservatives.”

    AHA, on the other hand, quite literally goes to bed with a rabid conservative every night, and it’s easy to see why people fear her views are being twisted rightward by her intimate personal association (read: marriage) with Niall Ferguson.

    Raving about the evils of “multiculturalism” is just too imprecise, too careless. One cannot help but come across as a far-right nutter with rhetoric like that.

    I do hope that, despite her very good reasons for being disillusioned by the left, she won’t drift over to the right too far, and thus play right into the hands of her asinine critics.

    1. Your comment about her romantic relationship with her husband is absolutely vile and uncalled for. You will apologize or go elsewhere. Seriously, “she quite literally goes to bed with a rabid conservative”? So does Jim Carville, but it hasn’t perceptively affect his politics. Your argument is simply ad hominem here and has nothing to do with her criticisms of Islam.

      This is exactly the kind of misguided, knee-jerk reaction that I am trying to highlight in the article: finding ways to dismiss somebody’s views on completely irrelevant grounds.

    2. I can’t comment on her personal life, and at first blush I thought your “going to bed” comment was a play on words with the uncomfortable “being in bed” with NeoCons. I do hope you’ll clarify per PCC’s comment if your intent was not to be inappropriate or vile.

      The inability to reconcile Ms Ali’s positions with those of the left is a real missed opportunity for her but Moreno for the progressive movement. I hope there would be a way to find common ground since she is so spot-on in her analysis of the relationship between “mainstream” Islam and jihadism.

      I found her comments on PBO confusing, but I have to say they make much more sense in light of her relationship with the right. In her defense, it seems she is only respected and given a fair hearing by the right; shame on “our side” if that relationship blinds people to what is good and true in her message.

      One can’t help but to speculate Ms Ali would not be as well-received on Fox were she to take a stand on the treatment of women in Xtianity or conservatism in general – certainly women’s lot is not as miserable in the West as it is in the Muslim world, but the “war on women” in US politics is a serious issue all the same.

    3. If the only people supporting Aayan are on the right it is not entirely surprising that she might move rightward politically.

      1. Life must be so easy for people who treat every person as a dichotomous variable that can have only two discrete values: right/left.

        1. Tricky thing right and left. I thought my brother-in-law was a good right wing conservative New Zealand farmer. He then went to the US fly-over states during the last election and found at best he was left-wing democrat.

          1. Yes, Canadians are more left as well. Our Conservative party is more close to the American Democratic party (but more evil).

  8. Yes, as a fountain of bad ideas I’ll join in. Is it not remarkable that a black woman has become the adult in the room covering all the ink on Islam and terrorism?

    I did like the reference to Keyboard Activism there from Prof. Coyne, very good. We should not be so hard on old Jon Stewart, the leftist with the poor interview. I’m pretty sure his interview would stink if he was a
    Scientologist from mars. If you are only thinking of cracking the next joke or pontificating – forget the interview.

    Kelly did pretty good but even she started to pontificate just a bit there. They cannot help it. It we are tuning in to see someone interviewed for a book they just wrote, what the hell makes the interviewer think it’s time for a debate. You just want to reach in and slap someone up the side of the head.

  9. She’s focused not on her own status as “victim,” but on the cause; and that rubs some on the Left the wrong way, for those people want the political channeled through the personal. Of course I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.

    Insightful! But what would they have her do, this subset of the left, were she to embrace her victimhood, and make it just about that? I think even as a victim these people wouldn’t like her, because it’s so transparent exactly what it is she’s a victim of. And there we have, in microcosm, the problem with some on the left and Muslim women: the tendency of the former to throw the latter under the bus, out of denial and relativism.

    1. The left isn’t interested in what happens to Muslim women; it is clear from their behaviour that they only care to placate practitioners of the worst forms of Islam.

      1. The worry of the left it, at least it seems to me, is that AHA paints a brush on all Muslims – including those who are faced with discrimination themselves in our Western society. It’s amazing how many times I’ve asked fellow liberals about their opposition to the likes of AHA, Harris or Dawkins, and almost without fail the response is to bring up some right-wing xenophobia which they are very opposed to.

        My conclusion is that it really doesn’t matter what is actually being said, but which political narrative it the view can be aligned to. Liberals seem to take the criticism in the same way they would xenophobia and racism, and once that happens, it becomes next to impossible to disentangle the points actually being made from the politics they think is being supported.

  10. It should be noted that the real reason that Blumenthal (who, by the way is the son of Sidney Blumenthal who was an adviser to former President Clinton) is a notorious Israel basher who has written a number of articles and books about his very negative opinions of Israel. IMHO, Blumenthal’s real gripe against Ms. Ali is that she has taken very much of a pro-Israel stance and he hates Israel like the plague. Consider him to be about as reliable as Breitbart and Drudge, his opposite numbers on the other side of the ideological divide. He’s even worse then Glenn Greenwald on the subject of Israel which is really saying something.

  11. I really liked Ali’s book Infidel. But I am still shocked that she has gone off and sided with the warmongering neoconservatives. For those of us atheists who are ardently antiwar, that is reason enough to criticize her. War empowers fundamentalists of the very kind she claims to be fighting against. I criticize her not because I am secretly a Muslim sympathizer or a deluded multi-culturalist, but because she seems to have rushed into the arms of Christian fundamentalists, Bushies and neocons, who are at least as dangerous to the world as ISIS types. Ali has added to my complete bewilderment by claiming that she admires war criminal Henry Kissinger, who has the blood of millions of Vietnamese on his hands, as well as claiming that Netanyahu deserves a Noble Peace Prize! And you don’t see any problem with that?

      1. Yes, but some of her other quotes can definitely be taken to support an actual war, not a war of ideas alone. In fact she agrees with the interviewer’s suggestion that that is necessary. Additionally, I do not see how a rational human being who is concerned with the welfare of others can admire Henry Kissinger, who even Christopher Hitchens denounced as one of history’s great monsters. And Netanyahu, for a peace prize? I certainly think Ali has made some worthy contributions to the debate, but this idea that as a ‘good atheist’ I should refrain from criticizing her is poppycock.

        1. A great deal of “actual war” over the last few months has prevented Kobane from falling into the hands of ISIS. “Actual war” is even now driving Boko Haram from the towns and villages it formerly occupied. The Islamic fundamentalists in both organisations are not being “empowered”, they’re being shot, blasted apart, dismembered, eviscerated and rendered stone dead in a variety of other interesting ways. And a good thing too.

          “Actual war” is every bit as necessary to defeat armed jihadism as it was to defeat the Nazis.

          1. I disagree, heartily. We provoked the entire thing by invading a country for their oil, which led to the deaths of over a million people, and now we pretend that it is the fault of the Koran. Just like the Khmer Rouge following our destruction of Indochina, the Muslim extremists, whether they call themselves Al Qaeda or ISIS or whatever, will only be strengthened by our continued attacks. Unless we end up killing all Muslims, which I am sure some neo-cons dream of doing. In addition, our sending money and weapons to Saudi Arabia, the most fundamentalist and opporessive country in the region, continues to fuel the slaughter. No, Malala had it right: when we start funding libraries instead of sending guns, then the war will end.

              1. I didn’t notice him mention 9/11, which in any case (1) has absolutely nothing to do with Iraq war except maybe some electoral pretext of Dubya’s and (2) pre-dated the Iraq war so couldn’t have been ‘provoked’ by it anyway.


        2. Who said you should refrain from criticizing her? JAC did object to people seeking pretexts to ignore her. Not remotely the same thing.

          1. Well, the very point of this article is that progressives should lionize Ali instead of ‘reviling’ her. I think people like Sam Harris and others get confused between ‘reviling’ and ‘criticizing.’ Criticizing is something we skeptics should not be chided for, as long as it is fair criticism. And I think calling Ali out for her admiration of Kissinger and Netanyahu is absolutely fair.

            1. By context you seem to be implying Blumenthal’s article is fair?

              If you are merely arguing for fair criticism, which by the way no one in this conversation has opposed you on if you hadn’t noticed, then please explain the gratuitious vulgar insinuations you added to your fair criticisms.

    1. Ali has added to my complete bewilderment by claiming that she admires war criminal Henry Kissinger

      I’m curious about the background on this. Any links you can share?

      1. Her husband, Nial Ferguson, wrote a biography of Kissinger. I think it was fairly kind to him. Maybe she’s been persuaded by Ferguson’s views. Given her shabby treatment by the left – it’s understandable.

        1. Admiring a war criminal because she felt mistreated by the left? Pretty lame, if that’s case. Seriously, are you aware of how many Vietnamese people Kissinger murdered, in those nasty secret bombings?

          1. I’m no fan of Kissinger, but I’m curious if you include JFK and Johnson as war criminals for their part in the Vietnam war as surely either one could have withdrawn US troops at any time.

    2. No fan of the Bushes or the other neocons here, but there is a substantial difference between ISIS and Boko Haram and the war mongers from the right. Only one of the two sides aspires to eliminate all forms of freedom in the world.

      1. Oh really. So you think the NSA wants to spy on us all out of a sense of ‘freedom’? And Bush started a war that led to the deaths of over 1 million people in the Middle East because, well, ‘freedom on the march’ (ash eh used to say)? Incidentally, ISIS depends on the neocons. They only exist as a reaction the wars that Bush et al launched. The same thing happened in Cambodia, with the Khmer Rouge. But I guess this time bombs will finally promote ‘freedom’.

          1. Umm, been paying attention to a little old thing called NSA? Also funny how Americans would love to forget about Bush and Iraq, and somehow are blind to the origins of ISIS (hint: study what happened in Iraq not so long ago). Not a luxury Middle Easterners can afford.

            1. Excuse me pal, the ISIL got started in Syria, not Iraq. This was in response to the murderous policies of Bashar Assad, no friend of the USA. The invasion of Iraq by the ISIL happened after they had overrun most of Eastern Syria.

        1. “Incidentally, ISIS depends on the neocons. They only exist as a reaction the wars that Bush et al launched.”

          Don’t you have the cart before the horse, there? Both Bush administrations (esp. Dubya’s) were strongly influenced by the Cheneys, Rumsfields, et. al.

          1. I am not following you, Diane. ‘Bush et al’ refers to Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, that whole gang. The ‘neocons’. Without their invasion of Iraq (and the continuous US funding of the religious fanatics in Saudi Arabia), ISIS would not exist. Was my point.

            1. That’s because I wasn’t following you. I read your comment as saying that the neocons only exist because of the wars.

              Obviously, you wouldn’t have said that! Apologies!

            2. Re Cleve Wicks

              There is a considerable measure of truth in that claim. However, as we sit here today, that’s ancient history and we are into current events. The question is, what should the US do about the ISIL. Apparently, because the US was less than intelligent 10 years ago, Mr. Wicks thinks it should do nothing, which will amount to acquiescing to mass slaughter of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq. Without the US led bombing campaign around Kobani and in Kurdistan, that’s exactly what would have happened.

  12. I admire Hirsi Ali and appreciate many things she has to say. Her writings have certainly influenced my understanding and thinking.

    I’m also aware of some criticisms towards her, which I realize point out that she is human and not perfect. That does not devalue the message she is incredibly qualified to present in light of her own personal history.

    I’m looking forward to reading “Heretic” soon.

  13. Prof. Coyne, the video you linked to is from a guy who calls Ayaan a fraud who “wasn’t really mutilated… none of this stuff happened to her…” -Just heads up. Also, a mistake I noticed in that interview Women In The World: the interviewer claims that “all sentient beings” think President Obama is wrong on that topic, but that’s a lie. Not only do a lot of human agree with President Obama but moreover, all vertebrates are sentient, along with some invertebrates. Being sentient doesn’t necessarily include understanding such a thing; maybe the person was trying to use hyperbole (in a rather silly way, I’d say).

    1. What video is that?

      Yes, like a lot of interviewers, the NYT one had to interject her own opinions; probably one reason PCC remarked that “the interviewer isn’t that great.”

  14. To answer the question as to why liberals dislike reformers, I have a sort of idea.

    If your idea is multi-culturalism, in other words maintaining different cultures, then the idea that cultures can shift and change becomes a threat.

    Thus calls for reform become calls for “westernisation” and “homogenisation” – which are seen as forms of colonisation.

    The multicultural frame thus has to chew up individual people in order to maintain itself.

    The main aim as stated is supposed to be to allow difference, but in actual fact it is to maintain the economic status quo, maintaining poverty and oppression in the name of protecting the impoverished and oppressed.

    It is thus more about maintaining homogeneity within sub-groups wherein the only voices that are treated like they matter are those that speak “for the community” rather than for themselves.

    The “representatives of the XYZ community” are thus not selected by the community, but rather as useful collaborators to the current power structure, whose defined role is to feign offence at anything that might further the interests of that community under the cover of fighting for its values.

    Of course this is all spit-balling, and should be taken with equivalent seriousness.

  15. well, ceiling-cat damn you! Thanks to this post, I’ve ordered her book. Add it to the pile of 26 others on/in my nightstand that I’ve still got to read.

    I’ve not much to add to the discussion otherwise. yes, I dislike agreeing with the far right as well. reminds me however that we do not have a “political spectrum”, we have a political venn diagram, and very rarely I find mine just barely touching, maybe not quite overlapping with some otherwise unsavory fox news types and spinning wildly away from my home on the liberal side of things.

    also, funny to think about that 5 worst atheists, I would’ve put P-Zed at the top of my own worst list, if I bothered to make up such a thing.

  16. Max Blumenthal = Judenrat, he would be the first Jew to sell out his own people to nazis and fascist. A disgusting moral relativist and a useful idiot.

    Like Mr.Coyne said, every generation has this despicable crop of self-hating leftists who would sell out their own mother for their twisted political ideology.

    1. Well, I didn’t say that, though I think a lot of leftists are acting in a counterproductive way. The comment on Blumenthal’s Judaism, though I put it up, was probably irrelevant, although his hatred of Israel, does, I think, play a role in his hatred of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

  17. Max Blumethal = Judenrat. A useful idiot who would sell out his fellow people to nazis and fascists if he were alive 60 years ago.

    Disgusting to watch this fool get airtime and publicity for his ultra leftist nonsense.

  18. Among liberals in say, the US or India, they are basically motivated to deny the ugly aspects of Islamic doctrine because they are afraid of what their own right-wing neighbors will do if their country decides that it has an enemy. The political Right in general, no matter what country you are in, likes there to be an ideological enemy.

    Liberals are afraid that if the West decides that Islam is dangerous or somehow an enemy, that this will bolster the power of the Right, and inflame its reactionary and imperialist character. I think this is perfectly understandable, but I see no way of maintaining this position in the face of the blindingly obvious fact that the ISIS is motivated by the Wahhabi/Salafi interpretation of Sunnism, and its ideology is spreading all over the Muslim world.

    Things are going to get worse before they get better, and at some point a Christian Right-wing reaction against Islam is going to set in in Europe. It’s just a matter of time. But meanwhile the Western Left will generally downplay anyone pointing out how problematic certain Islamic doctrines are. That they don’t really believe what they say they believe can be seen from how selective they are with their targets. Greenwald et al will call certain people Islamophobes or anti-Muslim bigots if they are white, conservative, or Christian. So Sam Harris and Bill Maher are ‘Islamophobes’/ Meanwhile all liberal minded people from the Muslim world, people like Tarek Fatah, or Zudhi Jasser, or Miryam Namazi, or Maajid Nawaz have to be ignored or called Uncle Toms.

    I’m sorry to say that much the same is true of the Indian Left. Where is the support for Shaikh Hasina, the PM of Bangladesh, who is a real socialist, who quotes Rosa Luxemburg in her speeches among Indian Leftists? Where is the support for her among Western Leftists?

  19. Even countries like Saudi Arabia, (allegedly our ally for decades), have been waging ideological war against us in the name of Islam. It’s beginning to sound absurd, as most generalists now know, to keep on insisting that ISIS is not Islamic.

    This reminds me of the severe backlash the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom received for pointing out how Saudi Arabia severely punished Raif Badawi for writing about secularism and how it routinely oppresses women and female children. For pointing out these truths, she was punished by Saudi Arabia, the Arab League and a bunch of Muslim countries to the point she had to back peddle and practically plead for forgiveness.

    And where was the West? Silent.

  20. To try and put in perspective how what I know of Ayaan Hirsi Ali conflicts with the strong dislike, and in many cases vilification, that some on the left exhibit toward her, I wrote down some of her comments from the Fox News interview. These comments are not atypical of her views. In my experience they are typical.

    “But then along side that, from the West I think, and especially on the liberal side, is a deep seated pity. People feeling sorry for the Muslim community. And when the Muslim community, members, leaders, say “we are offended” we feel so sorry for them that we can’t bring ourselves to offend them.

    But the way to get them out of that is to give them a form of tough love. And tough love is a love that, that is inclusive but that asks the right questions. In the hope . . . and you know, challenges these values. And that’s what we need to do now.”

    And regarding how to fight extreme Islam.

    “I feel the only way to really fight, the only way we have a chance, of fighting these barbarians is by talking about it. By expressing ourselves. And I do it by peaceful means. I write, I collaborate in a movie. And I still believe the pen is far more powerful, far more powerful, than all their guns.”

    And regarding why she thinks it is worth it considering the danger it exposes her to.

    “It is worth it to me because I love life more than I love death. They love death. That message is so much stronger than anything they put out there.”

    I just don’t get how any so called liberal could feel justified in slandering this woman, or vilifying her, talk nasty about her, or claim that she is lacking in ethics to any significant degree. Criticize, sure.

    1. I think she is being very, very clear here about what the root of the problem is. It is sympathy – very admirable, and indulgence – very bad.

    2. I know! I don’t have many heros but AHA is one of them! She’s smart too – she learned a whole new language and mastered it so much she worked in government. Then she mastered another one and wrote books that most native English speakers wouldn’t be capable of writing. Damn, she’s not just a hero; she’s a superhero!

      1. Yes, she’s completely fluent in her third, at least, language,highly intelligent, articulate, brave!, and beautiful besides.
        I have Heretic on Kindle and plan to start it soon.

        1. I was going to add that I gathered from Infidel that she’d learned a few more languages from her childhood moves, when I thought, why not google it? Thus:

          “As a result of her education and experiences, Hirsi Ali speaks six languages: English, Somali, Arabic, Swahili, Amharic and Dutch.”

          She’s absolutely a hero. I do hope her bodyguards are top notch!

          1. Yeah I too recalled that she had picked up a lot of languages in her youth when her family was on the move. Amazing!

      2. “Worked in government” is an understatement: among other accomplishments, she was elected to the Dutch parliament!

        (She was an MP for the VVD, the major center-right party here, which I would consider only slightly to the left of the US Democratic Party.)

  21. “…an assessment approved by atheist blogger P.Z. Myers.”

    I should have known better but I clicked that link anyway, now I need a shower. Myers and his pharyngulistas are a damned disgrace to humanity. The savaging on that thread of anyone who “misguidedly” spoke up for Hirsi Ali is sickening. The woman is a heroine; – Pz Myers OTOH!

  22. “stupid stuff like ‘Muslims who cant give up God should convert to Christianity’ ”

    I think her point would have to be that as Christians they would be much less of a threat. Which is true. The most radical Christians in today’s world do not try to violently overthrow Western Civilization. The fact is that mass conversion any time soon seems remote. But her suggestion is not stupid.

    1. “The most radical Christians in today’s world do not try to violently overthrow Western Civilization.”
      True, though there are many who are fighting to legislate it away.

  23. Speaking of “reviled role models”, I can think of a more appropriate one:

    The biography of Mohammed reads like a war documentary:

    Mohammed beheaded 600-900 Jews on one day.

    Mohammed ordered or supported 43 assassinations.

    The prophet Mohammed commanded 65 military campaigns, and fought in 27 of them. He averaged an event of violence every 6 weeks for the last 9 years of his life.

    The prophet Mohammed sanctioned the killing of about 10 poets who criticised him.

    The prophet Mohammed took a Jewish girl (Safiyah) to bed on the night of torturing her husband to death.

    Safiyah said: “Of all men, I hated the prophet the most—for he killed my husband, my brother, and my father”.

    Mohammed sanctioned sex slaves as the spoils of war.

    In early Islam, the biography of Mohammed was known as Maghazi (literally, stories of military expeditions).

    Mohammed nicknamed his swords “Pluck Out” and “Death”, and himself had a nickname from early Muslim historian Tabari of “The Obliterator”.

    The Islamic holy books (Koran, Hadith, Sira) contain more Jew hatred (9%) than Mein Kampf (7%).

    The Islamic calendar begins when Mohammed stopped being a peaceful preacher in Mecca and became a violent warlord in Medina.

    The prophet Mohammed was poisoned by a Jewish women, following his attack on the Jewish settlement of Khaibar. He died three years later as a result.

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