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