Malala versus Ayaan Hirsi Ali: why is one beloved and the other reviled?

November 28, 2015 • 10:00 am

Among atheists vilified by other atheists, a list that of course include Sam Harris, we find an unlikely candidate: Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is in fact on the list of “The 5 Most Awful Atheists” compiled by the bottom-feeding site Alternet. (The others are Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, S. E. Cupp, and of course Sam.) While I might be persuaded to add Cupp based on her politics (she’s an atheist who “aspires to faith” and has said she’d never vote for an atheist President), I’m sure there are many atheists far more awful than these five, and several of them—including Hirsi Ali—should be on the list of “Most admired atheists.”

I was thinking about why Hirsi Ali is so reviled by atheists and yet Malala Yousafzai (henceforth called “Malala,” as she’s widely known) is not only a hero, but also won the Nobel Prize. And yet they have some notable similarities: both are or were Muslims, both are famous for defending the rights of Muslim women, and both are under threat of murder from enraged Muslims who hate their activism (Malala was in fact shot in the head). I admire both of them, but why is Hirsi Ali reviled and Malala extolled?

One reason, I think, is that Hirsi Ali is strongly anti-Islam—she’s an apostate, while Malala remains a Muslim. Because of the liberal double standard, in which Muslims get a pass because they’re “oppressed” (that is, they’re people of color), Malala’s adherence to faith (one of whose forms almost killed her) isn’t criticized. Hirsi Ali, on the other hand, goes after Islam very often, and that doesn’t sit well with many atheists—again because of the double standard. Since Muslims are supposedly oppressed—although many of them oppress women, gays, apostates, Christians and Yazidis—while Christians are not, it’s far less acceptable among liberals to criticize Islam than to criticize any other faith.

As I believe Sam Harris said, Hirsi Ali should be a poster child for liberals. She’s black (of Somali origin); she had her genitals mutilated when young; she was once a pious Muslim; and, at great personal cost, she fled the faith and an arranged marriage, becoming a refugee in the Netherlands. There she educated herself and worked her way up to being a member of Parliament, only to flee after her collaborator on the film “Submission”, Theo van Gogh, was brutally murdered by an Islamist terrorist, leaving a note warning that she would be next. Hirsi Ali has continued to live under armed protection, now in the U.S., yet continues to speak and write tirelessly about the perfidies of extremist Islam and its oppression of women in particular—including genital mutilation. Now at Harvard, she’s written three excellent books, all of which I’ve read: Nomad, Infidel, and Heretic. The last is her program for the reform of Islam, which, although I see as unrealistic, bespeaks a determination to stop the terrorism through changing the way Muslims perceive the Qur’an and its dictates.

Why is she reviled? There are two reasons. One is simply that she’s married to the right-wing Niall Ferguson and previously worked for a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. These criticisms are irrelevant, and made only by those who wish to slander her. You can marry someone whose politics don’t jibe with yours (Mary Matalin and James Carville are a notable example), and Hirsi Ali worked at the AEI simply because nobody else offered her a job. (Where were you, progressives?). She’s now, as I said, at Harvard, at the Kennedy School of Government.

More important, she has occasionally said things that were unwise, and also has her words taken out of context. While she’s famously called for “crushing Islam”—and she did—she’s also called for a reform of the faith from within, as in her latest book Heretic, and she’s also made the distinction between hating a religion and hating its adherents as people. For those who go after her for wishing the extinction of Islam, read Heretic before you speak further.

She’s often criticized for having “defended” the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, but that is a misconception easily dispelled if you read what she said and her explanation for her words (see the post by Dan Arel on this issue). And, unlike Malala, she’s constantly calling out the problems with even moderate Islam, and that doesn’t sit well with some unthinking progressives, who repeatedly see the criticism of faith and faith-inspired acts as “Islamophobia.” I’m convinced that if Hirsi Ali spent her time criticizing right-wing Christians, she’d be far more admired.

Hirsi Ali has experienced the same kind of atheist-shaming as has Sam Harris: a few words, phrases, and thoughts are lifted from their work, and then used to denigrate their whole career, their whole body of work. I’m also convinced that if people really read their books and didn’t concentrate on such sound bites, the denigration would be considerably tempered. But people are either lazy don’t want to do that work, or they’re determined to dislike these people for other reasons, and won’t be swayed by the facts. I’m pretty sure that many people who attack Hirsi Ali haven’t read a single one of her three books. And I’m convinced that some prominent atheists who attack them are motivated in part by jealousy of their fame and their effectiveness.

Weigh a few phrases, even poorly-considered ones, against Hirsi Ali’s entire life and body of work. Again, she’s a black woman who worked her way out of fundamentalist Islam into a progressive point of view and political success, and who fights tirelessly for women’s rights. And have a look at the short (11-minute) film she wrote, “Submission,” which resulted in director Theo van Gogh’s death and her having to live under constant protection from fantatics sworn to kill her. I find the film immensely moving. I’m sure she knew what she would face when the movie became public.

Nobody is perfect, and as one commenter said on my recent post about Salon and Sam Harris, some nonbelievers tend to denigrate other atheists by quote-mining: taking words out of context without having read or understood (willfully or not) those words as they were intended. And, of course, all of us say things that don’t quite convey what we mean, are clumsy in our thoughts (that’s why I don’t tw**t), or are simply unthinking or make bad judgments. For those acts we can be faulted, but the tendency of atheists to denigrate other atheists by quote mining, and failing to judge someone’s work in its entirety, is an act of either laziness or mendacity. It’s time for atheists to get some perspective before we start eating our own.


Note: I’ve defended Hirsi Ali previously on this site, but wanted to continue the discussion.

109 thoughts on “Malala versus Ayaan Hirsi Ali: why is one beloved and the other reviled?

  1. I wonder if there are people who distinguish between ‘nice girls that know their place’ and ‘argumentative women that should know their place’.

    Not my views – but an attitude that might also apply to ‘nice atheists who know their place’ and ‘shrill atheists that ought to know their place’.

    There are all sorts of people, reactionary right and regressive left, who like a nice quiet ordered society where the ‘outsiders’ can be easily dismissed.

    1. You took the words right out of my KB.

      Yes, she is aggressive. More male in how she presents herself.

      Whereas Malala is a sweet girl fighting for justice.

      Yes. I do see sjw sexism here. Absolutely.

    2. The regressive left are sooooo happy that Malala hasn’t left Islam and hasn’t even removed her headscarf. “How dare you say that Islam is bad! See this young woman, who has done and suffered more than you ever could in 3 lives, still being loyal to her religion!…” Small wonder that Malala was used by the Salon as a stick to beat Sam Harris.

      1. Precisely so. Add to that the confusion/guilt many feel when a black woman who has suffered so much for her hard-won convictions takes no prisoners and is not willing to let Islam, willy-nilly, off the hook. They have to find a way that their narrative will hold, so she MUST be lying, even if these “lies” have to be concocted.

      1. Agree on the Madonna-whore complex. Well put!!

        Just fleshing out the Madonna:

        Malala is a child who was shot in the head and still remains loyal to her tribal “family.” She advocates for one of our most precious ideals, elevating education to the saintly. Her demeanor is sweet and her facial features round and diminutive, disarming and endearing.

        Fleshing out the “whore”:

        Ayaan’s intelligence is obvious. Her track record isn’t unscathed; the Dutch citizenship controversy demonstrates her intellect and ability to adapt and use systems to survive. Her activism is damning of Islam and sexual abuse, overtly tackling the connection between religion, submission, clothing, and rape. Ayaan has assimilated into the US intellectually elite, but her marriage evokes some cognitive dissonance. She hasn’t behaved.

        1. Apparently her deviation from utter predictability puts the wrong sort of person into a state of double plus ungood think.

  2. The pattern that I have been thinking about among some atheists is, as you say, that if a spokesperson in our camp has what is seen as a miss-step in the extremely complicated minefield of What One Should Say and Think, then, yes, their whole lifes’ work is to be denigrated. The quote mining then follows in the effort to complete the public shaming. It is far better to just explain why one disagrees with a person on that point, maybe point out areas where you agree for the sake of balance, then move on.
    One thing that I like about this web site is that we can do just that. You sometimes even call to our attention cases where Fox News and other such voices from the Evil Empire have gotten things right — as unusual and irksome as that may be.

    1. “spokesperson in our camp has what is seen as a miss-step in the extremely complicated minefield of What One Should Say and Think, then, yes, their whole lifes’ work is to be denigrated.”

      There are parallels here with the other regular topic de jour … certain people with demands for what is, in my opinion, unreasonable political correctness. eg Woodrow Wilson recently.

      If we look at it through the lens of “no free will” then we can then cut some slack to those I think unreasonable and those who are the object of the unreasonableness.

      And when we screw up … we can cut ourselves some slack as well.

      1. “If we look at it through the lens of “no free will” then we can then cut some slack”

        You don’t actually need ‘no free will’ for that. Just a bit of perspective and empathy.

        Humans make mistakes.


        1. While what you say is true … I am not sure I can cultivate compassion. I find I will either feel empathy/compassion for a given situation or not.

          Either way I can understand the understand there is a myriad causes for that situation.

          1. “Either way I can understand the understand there is a myriad causes for that situation.”

            Well that’s a ‘bit of perspective’ right there, I think. I’m not saying it applies in every situation.

            My point was, ‘no-free-will’ is not essential for a bit of tolerance of a situation. Empathy also works, and would work equally whether the framework is deterministic or not.

            I find that in practice, while I accept intellectually that determinism results in no-free-will, in everyday situations it’s instinctive and simpler to assume that actors do have free will and that they have consciously decided to do whatever it is they’re doing.

            A bit like the teleological assumption that e.g. arctic animals ‘want’ to grow longer hair. We know that’s wrong and the real answer is in differential reproductive rates yadda yadda, but it can enormously simplify visualisation. As does the ‘orbiting electrons’ Bohr atom, for another example.


  3. …The last is her program for the reform of Islam, which, although I see as unrealistic…

    Doubt there’s any disagreement that often the only way to reach realistic goals is to fight for the unrealistic ones.

  4. Not sure if my twitter comments are visible to you (I know many big names block unverified accounts or more), so I’ll repost my comment here.

    Unlike Malala, Ali fabricated many of her claims of victimhood out of thin air. I’ll give you a short list.

    (1) She never grew up in war-torn Somalia, but rather safe and wealthy in Kenya.

    (2) She was never forcibly married to a fanatical Muslim man. Aside from the marriage not being forced, but her husband was not a fanatic. He agreed to her divorce without issue, and she maintained contact with him, including face-to-face visits, long after the divorce.

    (3) Her family had never threatened her with honor killing. In fact, aside from being wealthy, her family was relatively liberal, sending her brother to a Christian, rather than Muslim school. Her experience of genital mutilation (which was real and deplorable) was the result of being left alone with a

    In addition, you’re wrong about her leaving the Netherlands after receiving death threats. She was forced to leave when her citizenship status was thrown into jeopardy when (1)-(3) (and some other minor lies, including giving a false name and date of birth) were exposed. The Right wing nationalist party that she herself sold out to support ended up seeing her as toxic and threw her under the bus.

      1. I agree.Sturgeon very emphatically challenges matters that I thought were historically factual. I’m perfectly willing to find that I’m wrong, but I think something so diametrically opposed to the common understanding should have some sort of citation.

      2. Hirsi Ali has openly admitted falsifying her immigration application so she could gain residency. So that’s nothing new. And the Dutch government rescinded its denial of her citizenship, but she decided to leave anyway because of the threats. That’s the only one I know about, and I’ll let other address the other claims.

        1. Thanks for the reply. I don’t see how her admitting to falsifying her application (though she has not admitted to all of the major lies) doesn’t go a good way towards answering your original question.

          People who lie about victimhood are generally less likely to attract sympathy than those who do not, especially in cases where the lies are egregious. Ali’s entire career is built on her victimhood narrative, which included several central pillars (FGM, forced marriage, threat of honor killings, growing up amidst religiously-motivated Civil War) – if the only true part of that story is that she was submitted to FGM as a child, then it certainly makes her harder to respect. I don’t think any of this contradicts some of the other reasons you and others have offered- the Left obviously has its biases.

          As for the well-justified requests for evidence for my claims, the Zembla program that caused much of controversy in the first place with its investigation of her life story can be found here (sorry about the obviously-biased and ridiculous Youtube account- I can’t seem to find it in full anywhere else):

          As for the question of her flight from the Netherlands, I apologize for not being clear. My claim here is that the citizenship status controversy jeopardized her career, which spurred her to leave the country. She announced her decision to leave the country just a few days after the Zembla documentary aired, in May of 2006. This same Zembla doc also caused the collapse of the political party she built her career representing, since it was revealed they spread what they knew to be lies about her refugee story (contrary to her claim that her lies were old hat, there was no major controversy about her status until the doc aired). Van Gogh was killed in 2004- if she was in immediate fear for her life (which would have been eminently reasonable), why did she stick around for 2 years, only announcing her decision to leave right when her career collapsed?

          1. “Ali’s entire career is built on her victimhood narrative…”

            I don’t know and don’t care what her “career” is built on, but my respect to Hirsi Ali is built on her thinking and her compassion. It is humane to feel sympathy to victims, but let’s remember that many rich privileged people have done major contributions to human thought, while many narrow-minded fanatics have been martyred (e.g. Savonarola).

          2. So Hirsi Ali falsified her immigration application — that’s all you got to cast doubt on her credibility, Sturge? You have any idea how common that is? My own paternal grandparents came here on phony papers, since my grandfather had to be smuggled out of the Balkans owing to the price on his head due to his fighting in the anti-Fascist underground. I’d guess half the people in this country have somebody in their family who got here on false pretenses. The other half just has somebody who fudged a couple details on their way through Ellis Island.

            You’re gonna hafta do better than that. You’ve enumerated several purported lies attributed to her in your comment above. Shouldn’t be too much to ask you to cite one reliable source for each.

          3. “if the only true part of that story is that she was submitted to FGM as a child, then it certainly makes her harder to respect.”
            Of course, FGM isn’t true victimhood unlike living in environment where someone might wear an offensive Halloween costume…

        2. * One correction. I said she “stuck around” for 2 years after Van Gogh’s death, which I should retract. She did move around a bit in secrecy, living for some months elsewhere, which I should have mentioned, so my apologies. But she did return to the country and the public eye, only deciding to leave when her career was threatened.

          1. Her LIFE was threatened.
            She was actively being hunted by the same kind of people that brutally murdered Theo Van Gogh.

    1. Quite the lying sack of shit, aren’t you ?

      If you had a shred of intellectual honesty you would know that in her biography she clearly states that she was born in Somalia then lived in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya and then the Netherlands.

      1. If this lying sack would give out his real name we would still find all of his statements as crap. Possibly he reports for Salon? The junk about being forced to leave the Netherlands is not true. If she had been forced to leave, would they let her return?

      2. While I agree that this person is distorting the situation, I have to ask, in the interest of the civility I want to maintain on this website, that people refrain from calling names like those above. You can be exercised, and you can accuse someone of making stuff up, but I’d prefer that we have no personal invective. Thanks.

      3. Try to keep the discussion civil, eh? There are plenty of other websites for strangers to fling insults at each other. No need to lower the tone here too. Sturgeon’s Law may be lying, s/he may just be misinformed, or may even be at least partially correct on some points. Whatever the truth, there’s no justification for likening him or her to a feces filled bag.

      4. “If you had a shred of intellectual honesty you would know that in her biography she clearly states that she was born in Somalia then lived in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya and then the Netherlands.”

        First, my claim, that she “never grew up in war-torn Somalia, but rather safe and wealthy in Kenya” does not contradict her mentioning spending time in Kenya, Ethiopia, KSA, or anywhere else.

        Her lie (repeated in her asylum application) was that she grew up, which is to say, that she spent significant amounts of time in war-torn Somalia. She did not spend any significant amount of time there, nor was it war-torn during her stay.

        Second, the first volume of her autobiography was published AFTER her lies were exposed in 2006, as an attempt at damage control and to try and capitalize off of the controversy. What she says in the autobiography cannot be used to exonerate her from the lies that preceded it.

        If you value intellectual honesty, then take a glance at her interviews and writings from before 2006 until this year. She has stopped bringing up many of the pillars of her initial victimhood narrative (the civil war, etc, which, by the way, were even repeated in the publisher’s blurb in Infidel). Now she only refers to the FGM and the forced marriage (though the latter appears to be false as well).

          1. I have read at least some of her books, including Infidel. In fact, I used to be a supporter. Nowadays, I’ll take Maajid Nawaz, Irshad Manji, or yes, Malala, over her as far as opponents of Islamism or Islam itself go. After reviewing the evidence, she strikes me as more of a careerist than an honest critic of religious oppression. And I think many other critics of religion, when faced with the evidence, feel the same. That’s not to say her work, for example, the AHA stuff, hasn’t done any good, of course.

            As for the television program, you can see for yourself it includes not only interviews with people who grew up with Ali, which form a clear consensus regarding her story, but her school records, among other documents, and of course, an interview with Ali herself. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give that evidence considerable weight.

            1. At least some of her books? Doesn’t sound very convincing, especially in view of your reliance on secondary sources (the Economist article quotes the documentary) and your backtracking. Face it: you’re trying to discredit her entirely because of things that she admitted herself.

          2. In case some find the documentary too obscure a source, it received some mainstream attention here, too. Here’s an article from the Economist that both mentions the documentary, but also independently agrees with my assessment of Ali’s victim narrative:

            1. Oh the Economist! Well that settles it then although I’d prefer a more reliable source. Like, say, the Daily Mail?

        1. You imply her using a “victim narrative” in the past is evidence of a poor character, but when she doesn’t use a “victim narrative” now, you state that it’s proof her her lying. (Heads you win, tails she loses)

          So if you choose to not talk about something as much as you used to, you must have lied about it in the past? That’s absurd reasoning.

          I can think of many reasons for her not bringing up those subjects, but two that jump to mind are her wanting to use fresh material, or her having her material edited out of her control.

    2. You appear to be basing all your “facts” off one rather old one-off TV documentary (one that was heavily criticised in the Netherlands when it came out) and appear to be unfamiliar with what Ayaan Hirsi Ali has actually written about herself, as opposed to wheat you have been told she says about herself.

      She doesn’t not describe her family as abusive or poor, in fact she describes several of them with affection and admiration. She absolutely describes her formative years in Kenya – in fact that was where she found herself attracted to a more extreme and conservative version of Islam herself.

      She also does not describe her marriage as one that she was dragged kicking and screaming towards, merely as one where her consent was not asked nor required. She does not describe the man she was married to as a fanatic either. Just a man she didn’t choose to marry.

      Anyway, I’m not going to pick apart all the errors in your interpretation of the one documentary you’ve watched. Go and read Nomad, and then realise that you’ve just written several paragraphs attacking someone for claims that she does not make.

      1. Hi Grania. The documentary isn’t the only source for my claims. It merely collects most of the evidence in one place (interviews with people who grew up with her, school records, an interview with Ali herself, and the like).

        Second, Nomad came out in 2010. The scandal about the veracity of her story that accompanied the documentary happened in 2006. Even by the time of Infidel, published soon after the scandal, she was already walking back her earlier claims, so the story told in Nomad doesn’t do anything to exonerate her- rather, it provides stark contrast with her pre-2006 claims, further driving home their egregiousness.

        As for a few of the specific claims that merit discussion outside the point about her revisions: I do not claim she ever described her family as poor (though she did omit details about the wealth earlier on). I highlight their wealth only to show that she was living in relative comfort, rather than the instability and deprivation of war.

        She does claim her immediate family was abusive. In Infidel, she describes suffering a number of forms of violent corporal punishment for minor infractions. She also describes having to hide from her extended family after leaving her marriage.

        As for lying about marriages, it’s also worth noting that she admits she helped her sister gain refugee status with similar lies. In “The Caged Virgin,” Ali claims her sister came to the Netherlands to avoid a forced marriage. Yet later, in Infidel, she admits that her sister just wanted to start over after an affair with a married man that culminated in an abortion, and that she made up the story about forced marriage to be able to stay in the Netherlands.

  5. Referring to the far left of the progressives and I don’t think it makes any difference whether atheist or not, they are simply blinded by the notion that speaking a negative word about Islam is simply not allowed. This is a shallow idea if there ever was one. Maybe we hold atheists to a higher standard and we should not.

    For a good example of this shallow and blind thinking, take a look at MP Chrystia Freeland, and her appearance on Bill Maher’s show Nov. 21st. You learn pretty quickly that to even discuss critically, anything about Islam, sends people like her into frantic apologies and it is disgusting.

  6. I wonder what were Hirsi Ali’s circumstances at Malala’s current age, and what Malala’s will be at Ali’s current age. Malala still has plenty of time to get under the skin of Ali’s critics.

  7. As has been frequently observed, it doesn’t take much intelligence to think one’s way out of religion. Nor is atheism a world view, our thoughts are not molded by what we don’t believe.

    It’s therefore not surprising that atheists are both as stupid and as ideologically diverse as believers.

    Having myself evolved from religious conservatism to a sort of politically rootless small “l” liberalism, it is most interesting for me to observe smart left wing people painfully unpacking the sorts of problems were always obvious from my former perspective. The sort of personalities Jerry is spotlighting are the reason many otherwise liberal people stay politically conservative.

    To the more centrist, non-theistic conservative view, the ideological bent required to vitriolically attack (as opposed to thoughtfully criticize) Harris, Hirsi Ali, Dawkins, et al, is as repellent, and frankly, just precisely as bat-shit crazy and frightening, as the theocratic leanings of the DI or Cruz or Huckabee. Possessing a more clearly thought out position on the question of theism is no evidence at all that a particular individual doesn’t still possess that same mindless drive to develop a destructive self-righteous ideology.

    We take it as given that the religious create Gods that share their own biases. Many atheists fill that “God shaped hole in their hearts” (retch) with politics that are equally fundamentalist in every sense of the word save one.

  8. Alice Walker’s “Possessing the Secret of Joy” is centered on the evils of female genital circumcision/mutilation, but takes place in a fictional African country of Olinka, and mentions Islam only once (p.193 of my copy) referring to “cultural fundamentalists and Muslim fanatics”, so that whole issue is sidestepped. The society IS polygamous, though in Africa that is not limited to Islam.

    That did not prevent her from getting attacked by some Muslim writers, but the avoidance of mention of religion is still a bit strange in what has been characterized as the most widely read book on FGM in the world.

    (What exactly is “cultural fundamentalism”?)

  9. S. E. Cupp?

    That’s someone for whom those of us on the non-regressive left can maybe get a good hate on, but she hardly seems to register with sufficient force to make a Top-Five list.

    If anything, she’s got accommodationist tendencies. I suspect AlterNet stuck her in there simply because it detests her rightwing politics.

  10. Malala was shot in the head and survived. Not many people survive a shot in the head. Her recovery is almost – dare I say it – a miracle. This small, lonely girl, stands up to a mob of angry men, gets shot by them and yet she survives! It’s almost as if she’s blessed in some way.

    This may sound as if I’m criticizing her courage, but I’m not. She is undoubtedly a courageous girl. I’m criticizing the way a unlikely survival makes her a saint in the eyes of some people.

    Another thing is her nonviolent resistance. It elevates her into the realm of Ghandi, dr. King and Mandela. To me, this doctrine is downright wicked. In an interview on The Daily Show Malala said that there would have been no difference between her and her attacker if she fought back with her shoe. She said “You must fight others with peace and dialogue and education.”

    Malala did not have a choice between nonviolent resistance and self defense on that fateful day, when those cowards attacked her. But to say that one must choose for peace and dialogue is crazy talk. You can’t reason with islamic terrorists. In fact: Theo van Gogh’s last words were: “Can’t we talk about this?” The response from the terrorist was clear: No, we can’t.

    Malala is without a doubt a courageous girl, but not particularly wise.

    1. She is very young. At her age, I had some views that I consider unwise today. (This is not to imply that my current views are universally accepted as wise.)

      To me, Malala’s story is extremely disturbing. She was pushed into her activism by her father and the BBC. The BBC first wanted to recruit as blogger another, older girl, but her father said “no” because he found this too dangerous. Then Malala’s father offered her. I am a parent and I consider the older girl’s father a good parent and Malala’s father a terribly bad parent. You don’t sacrifice your minor child for a cause, no matter how noble.

      Malala hardly had a choice. A dutiful girl does what her parents want. Now, her devotion to education at age 11-14 is widely quoted as a proof that girls should be educated. If your 12-old son says that he doesn’t want to go to school, will you take this as evidence that school must be optional? No, you will hold your son by the ear (metaphorically or not) and drag him to school.

      We adults make decision for our children, and we must fight whatever battles are to be fought. In Malala’s case, we have the Taliban murderers on one side and a child-sacrificing father on the other.

  11. Hirsi Ali and Malala suffer from an atheist form of the Madonna-whore complex. Malala is the saintly still Muslim who doesn’t say anything against religion, while Hirsi Ali is the whore that dares speak up.

  12. I consider both women to be exceptionally brave
    and to be commended for their actions. They are entitled to different stages of development due to age, family and where/how they were acculturated. They are entitled to espouse differing methods of promoting their agendas. Hurrah for diversity that makes the rest of us think more carefully, judiciously and, hopefully, leads to better behavior.

    I thoroughly despise the demonization of people such as Hirsi Ali and Sam Harris. I’d much prefer that reading, rationality and thoughtfulness inform statements. But, we can learn much from our thoughts and reactions to uninformed,thoughtless and/or vitriolic comments. We can’t prevent freedom of speech that we find disgusting and hateful. We can ensure that we don’t do the same.

  13. I have read Nomad and Infidel, but not yet Heretic. I have great admiration for AAH. For some reason she is reviled for many things that she has not attempted to disguise, such as her relatively liberal upbringing (despite FGM). Is an arranged marriage fundamentally less illiberal if you are not killed for rejecting it? She would probably be more popular if someone had shot her. We like our victims to be really victimy.

    However, I have to admit that her politics make me queasy. She did benefit from/exploit Holland’s generous welfare system, and then join a party that sought to deny others those benefits (in Infidel, I think, she specifically states that her platform was for the removal of the minimum wage and of employment protection in the Netherlands).

    The comparison with Malala is chalk and cheese. Admirable as she is, she is also largely a western media construct, a sort of totem. The UK press in particular love her, as she was shipped there and treated there after the Taliban attack, which makes her a sort of feel-good immigrant, as in “she may be a Paki, but she’s our Paki”.

  14. The reason why she isn’t beloved are in my book the following five (ideological) reasons. I’ve tried to boil them down and simplify them somewhat. The background is in my view a “Social justice warriors” ideology movement, a faction, who are vocal proponents of a postmodernist, intersectionality, CRT, blank slate, standpoint theory, … belief system.

    (1) Social Justice Orthodoxy: SJWs want to use their current strength to purify the left and pretend their particular postmodernist ideology was the default. Hence, critics or non-supportive people are declared non-left or otherwise outroup, and everything that suggests this (e.g. being married to the wrong person) is pronounced. At the same time, there’s a chilling effect for believers of this ideology to make sure that whatever they do or reference is properly “pure” and in no way unorthodox, heterodox, bipartisan or – Eris forbid – right wing or libertarian. Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn’t a proper CRT intersectionality postmodernist, hence she is reviled.

    (2) Hidden Ideology: The fact that there is a particular not uncontroversial ideology at play is understated or hidden altogether. This is why it seems counter-intuitive that she isn’t loved. Downplaying ideology has the advantage to assert control, prevents the need of justification (just as Sokal and Bricmont also noted with postmodernists of old) and further, other motives can be invented why people are critical: they’re hating women, are secretly racists, want to keep minorities in their place, which are in turn powerful reinforcements for the ideology (it convinces believers even more that their ideology is needed as a cure). Ideological reasons appear here as “islamophobia” only, a term that is a dead give-away of the intersectionality CRT style postmodernist ideology which is of course a complete nonsense idea in context of Ayaan Hirsi Ali – who else, if not she can be legitimately be afraid of Islam? But “Islamophobia” is one of many Thought Terminating Clichés this ideology uses.

    (3) Hegemony/Prerogative of Interpretation: By removing opinion leaders, through various demonization techniques, more “appropriate” opinion leaders can take the spot. At the same time, there are chilling effects too. The process of making a specatcle by “burning” someone of course plays into what’s known as “witch-hunting” and has the effect that the audience is pulled closer into the ideology, i.e. you don’t want to appear like one of those bigots, don’t you … ? This makes perfect sense. Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn’t like the SJWs, doesn’t have the proper smell, is too bipartisan and strategical and not ideologically pure, hence she must be removed.

    (4) Posturing and overcoming cheap signalling: SJWs are concerned with their own appearance. They are like fleeing game in face of danger. When they even surmise a whiff of racism (Islamophobia), they run into the opposite direction for they want to look better-than-thou (linked to anti-racism). This is one half. The other half is showing the right virtues. Sharing Upworthy and prepacked progressive values is made easy and perhaps no longer suitable to show commitment. As such, the dynamic makes people go into more costly displays of their convictions which is by signalling more controversial and “purer” versions, to distinguish themselves from other people around them. “Normal feminists” and normal progressives would love Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but SJWs are holier-than-thou, thus need to go above that, and – again – do so in concordance with their ideology.

    (5) With Us Or Against Us: once openly stated (e.g. Atheism Plus), it is written all over their ideology. There are minority groups who need unconditional support and who are besieged by some groups: thus it’s an obligation to help them. If you aren’t part of the solution, you are “part of the problem”. This attitude makes such activism an easy target for postmodernism (telephone games and even cult-like communities). It also forms the main defense mechanism: speaking out against the pernicious, intolerant, irrational ideology is reinterpreted as being against women, minorities and so forth, thus no adherent dares to dial it back or speak out against falsehoods. The result is that falsehoods, if they harm “opponents” persist and it is actually discouraged to swipe them away, as that could look like helping the opponents. As such, it’s easy from that postmodernist standpoint to fling mud which will never go away, unless the person is a SJW themselves and thus engages in the same “social-justicer-than-thou” rituals, which is the only way to clear oneself. Ayaan Hirsi Ali didn’t side with them, and didn’t acquire a coat of teflon, thus everything sticks.

  15. I certainly do not revile her. But her libertarian politics and fear mongering about immigrants are enough for me to not like her a lot of the time. Though she certainly has a lot to add to a multitude of discussion. I wish we would take people’s points as they stand rather than judge people as a whole. Penn Jilette’s economic policies are abhorrent, his commitment to free speech is very admiral. The whole idea behind these lists are flawed.

    1. ‘The 5 most awful atheists’? And they left Richard Dawkins off it? And PZ Myers?
      There will be… trouble.

      ‘The whole idea behind these lists are flawed.’
      You can say that again!


      1. A list that doesn’t include Stalin or Mao is pretty worthless I would say. Making lists like this one just reveals somebody has way too much time on their hands.

        Purely subjective of course but I have always been willing to cut Dawkins and Harris (and Hitchens) slack when I think they’re wrong because they are always interesting. I got to the point where every time I went over to Freethought blogs I felt like I needed to wash off when I left. P Z Myers is never interesting. I just find him vile. So I vote with my mouse and don’t go over there any more.

        I remain a firm advocate of social justice, consider myself a staunch feminist and can’t think of anything worse to say about Islam than I consider its truth claims to be bullshit.

        1. Just for the record, I rate Richard Dawkins as my #1 favourite atheist, while I don’t bother with PZ’s site for the same reasons as you. I am aware Richard has copped a lot of flak in some circles.

          I guess my point is, these lists are so subjective, they’re almost pointless.

          You could probably exclude Stalin or Mao because (a) the list was of current atheists (b) Stalin and Mao’s offences were politically inspired, not tied to their atheism. In fact that sort of list (and it usually wrongly includes Hitler) is usually brought up by religiosos trying to show how evil atheism is.


  16. I think the difference is perceived innocence.

    Malala is primarily seen and remembered as a young vulnerable innocent and a courageous one at that, while Hirsi is mature, sophisticated, an intellectual firebrand, controversial and of whose courage and other personal attributes many people might be envious of.

    Ali’s one of my heroes.

  17. “can marry someone whose politics don’t jibe with yours (Mary Matalin and James Carville are a notable example)”

    This is something that I’ve never understood. My husband is my best friend. We agree on much, if not everything. How can you commit to a life with someone who would be so different? One’s politics aren’t separated from other parts of one’s life. Those opinions inform everything.

    1. Marriage is a compromise. You adapt to the circumstances.

      My wife gives Jesus his orders for the day every morning. She knows perfectly well I don’t believe a word of it and I won’t say grace. We’ve never had an argument about it.

      Our biggest arguments have been about cutting (or not cutting) the trees around our section. Things with real physical consequences.

      Personalities are not, I think, correlated with left-right politics. It’s far more complex than that.


      1. I am curious, is your wife sure you are damned to eternal torture? I would have a problem if a friend thought this about me, much less my spouse. I do get that it is very complex but believing that I deserve to be damned would be a deal breaker for me.

          1. that is very true. Unfortunately, most theists believe that anyone who disagrees with them is damned to an eternity of torture. I would have a problem if someone who claimed they loved me thought I deserved such a thing. Would you?

            1. I don’t know. I’m not in that situation. I am not dismayed that other people find ways to coexist. I once sat, at a meeting of the FFRF, next to a woman who was married to a Jehovah’s Witness. Somehow they made it work.

        1. “I am curious, is your wife sure you are damned to eternal torture?”

          I’ve never asked her, but I’m pretty sure not.

          My wife’s a Cook Islander, and while they tend to be devout, their version of London Missionary Society Protestantism has undergone a few changes to suit their culture. For them, family relationships are all-important and trump religion almost every time.

          For example, they** do NOT insist that brides should be virgins. In fact they would generally advise strongly against a girl marrying her first boyfriend (the exact opposite of a shotgun wedding in fact), not even if she is pregnant and he wants to marry her. They think it far wiser for young people to get around a bit and find out what it’s all about before they commit to a marriage. (I’m sure they could find Biblical authority for that if they had to.)

          (** From the wife’s island. Other islands may differ in details).


          1. (Sigh) WHY is WordPress now listing replies in reverse order of posting??? The result appears highly confusing.

            Specifically, GBJames’ comment immediately below was in response to clubschadenfreude’s comment, not mine…

            (Thanks GBJ)

          2. I find it curious to think you don’t know what she believes. Different things for different couples I guess.

            I think very few Christians insist brides be virgins anymore and I think their stance is a great idea. It’s also a great example of how religion is made by humans, not by a god.

            I’d find it odd if a missionary bent sect of Christians didn’t believe that anyone who didn’t agree with them were going to hell if they put so much effort in proselytizing as their mission statement says “to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations”

            1. “I find it curious to think you don’t know what she believes.”
              That’s incorrect. I think I know, to a first approximation.

              “I think very few Christians insist brides be virgins anymore”
              Probably true, but with a higher incidence among the devout, and more so as one goes back in time. So far as I know, Cook Islanders never worried too much about that. They were more concerned with having kids, the more the merrier, to add to the family, and they did not usually place rigid rules on the marital status of the mother.

              “It’s also a great example of how religion is made by humans, not by a god.”
              Absolutely. My belief entirely.
              (It’s also why I demur from what I see as the over-simplistic unvoiced assumption that all muslims share – or should as ‘good’ muslims – the same interpretation of the Koran.)

              “I’d find it odd if a missionary bent sect of Christians didn’t believe that anyone who didn’t agree with them were going to hell”
              Well the London Missionary Society was a non-denominational society – mainly Anglican and Congregational. So with that background a certain amount of accommodationism was implicit, I think. Further, ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’ – by analogy, no orthodoxy survives unchanged in the field. By the time the Bible had been translated into Rarotongan and the message doubtless reinterpreted to make it more comprehensible and acceptable, I suspect it had changed substantially. The missionaries succeeded in making the church a major part of island life, but – a bit like the Church of England – in the process of becoming a social institution the degree of religious enthusiasm gets diluted.

              Further, the Catholics followed, so on Pukapuka they’re now about 1/3 Catholic, 2/3 CICC (ex LMS). No island family is going to expel a family member for joining the ‘wrong’ religion (or consign them to hell).
              Family trumps religion every time.


              1. I’ll have to admit that I am a bit confused then, inf, since you said that you didn’t know if your wife thought you’d go to hell “I’ve never asked her, but I’m pretty sure not.”
                I think that the LMS are fairly accomodationist but they are sure that if they don’t spread their beliefs people will go to hell. If they didn’t believe that no one would leave their comfy homes to proselytize to non-believers. I do agree that religions do indeed change, though it does seem that they can get either more liberal or more vicious. I’m glad that the people’s culture is stronger than the religious nonsense. Too bad that doesn’t happen everywhere.

              2. “I’ll have to admit that I am a bit confused then, inf, since you said that you didn’t know if your wife thought you’d go to hell “I’ve never asked her, but I’m pretty sure not.” ”

                That would be pushing things to their logical extreme. Sometimes it’s better to leave things alone. I would guess her daily orders to Jesus include a request to look after me, which would take care of it, but I’m certainly not going to ask her the details – which I’m pretty sure she would regard as nosiness. Nor am I going to tell her my belief that we’ll never go to heaven ‘cos it don’t exist.

                If she was in the clutches of some church that was bad for her I might try to ‘save’ her from it, but she isn’t (she rarely goes to church, I think she had some difference of opinion with the preacher some time). In fact God’s commands seem to quite conveniently fit in with what she wants to do anyway, so there’s no advantage I can see in stirring things up.

                I doubt the LMS were motivated solely by hell. I suspect many of them were motivated by a desire to bring the advantages of western civilisation, medecine and education just as much as religion.


    2. Totally agree with you, clubschadenfreude, nor can I imagine being married to a religious believer if you’re an atheist. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen–see comments above–just that I personally could never have the sort of relationship I want in a marriage with someone of different politics or with supernatural beliefs.

      1. Well, I was … but she’s come round to my way of thinking. However, I think she was only ever a “cultural Christian” because her parents were (and still are) religious.


        Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.


        1. Unfortunately (for what it says about women) it seems that in the vast proportion of believer/nonbeliever marriages it’s the female who’s the believer.

          1. Highly astute observation, Diane.
            I know of many cases -including my own (or Darwin for that matter 🙂 ).
            The other way round? Not so.

            Do you have any hypothesis about this?
            Are atheist males or religious females less picky than their respectively religious or atheist counterparts? Are there just more male atheists? Do we have some numbers there? Or…?

            1. I’m sure I’ve seen studies supporting this, and of course the converse, that atheist/humanist/freethinker groups skew highly male. But I’m too lazy to search for them now…You might begin with CFI if you’re interested in looking further. (Not to mention Google. 😉 )

              As to hypotheses why–several have been advanced. They deal largely with women’s historic subservience to men, insufficient education, lack of encouragement in academia, etc. I would say that much of society still doesn’t encourage intellectual achievement by women.

              Think of the ratio of pop culture bimbos to female achievers in the mass media, for instance.

              1. Pop culture bimbo was my nick name in high school. LOL. Of course it wasn’t, no one said “pop culture” when I was in high school.

            2. So basically, the answer to your question “Are there just more male atheists?” is a resounding “yes!”

              Those numbers should be easy to Google. You might even search WEIT for them.

      2. I remember having a huge fight with a boyfriend when Sinead O’Connor ripped up the pope picture on SNL in the 90s. That relationship was doomed!

        1. Sounds like good riddance. 😀

          I remember wondering what the big deal was at the time. For just tearing up a stupid picture? (Now I’m more aware of how touchy some folks are, not to mention how many Catholics are amongst us…)

  18. In Infidel, Hirsi Ali describes in unsparing detail a hermetic culture from the inside out. Dysfunctional families and cultures encourage ‘children of the secret’. She is more akin to a whistle-blower than a victim.

    Whistle blowers make people uneasy. Why aren’t they loyal, why don’t they let the status quo remain, will they turn on us? Think of Snowden and the muddled reaction to his actions. He simply pointed out without lessening national security that particular security measures are placing personal privacy at risk. The average American regards him as a traitor, more like someone like Assange.

    We all love heros/heroines except when they whistle blowers.

    1. “We all love heros/heroines except when they whistle blowers.”

      Gets me a-thinkin’ what if all officiating were done away with in sports. What an opportunity for our primate proclivities to manifest themselves.

      1. Indeed. Our deplorable TV newscasters (here in NZ) have obviously decided that patriotism = ratings, and regularly lambast the appalling and obvious errors made by referees any time a decision goes against any NZ team. Curiously enough, these same refs never seem to make a mistake in favour of NZ.

        Patriotic xenophobic coverage of international sporting fixtures – by whichever country – disgusts me, actually. And there’s plenty to be disgusted about 😉


  19. Apropos

    all of us say things that don’t quite convey what we mean, are clumsy in our thoughts (that’s why I don’t tw**t)

    I wonder if the Twitter API allows for a 3rd-part Twitter app that allows – nay, enforces a couple of hours between the writing of a Tweet and it’s dispatch to the outside world? Like the infamous “google beer goggles” tool for not ending rude emails to your Boss at 03:00.

  20. We all love heros/ heroines except when they whistle blowers.

    Unfortunately I’ve just closed the tab carrying the story, but I was reading recently (an hour or so ago) of a Swiss whistle blower who revealed the complicity of HSBC in money laundering, tax evasion and a variety of other money crimes. Naturally, such a public-spirited citizen has been rewarded with a 5 year jail sentence.
    Everybody loves a whistle blower, unless you’re the one having the whistle blown on you. Which is why the world NEEDS WikiLeaks (or something equivalent).
    And, “Thank you, Mr Snowden,” I owe you a beer. And since it’ll probably have to be delivered in Russia, I’d better bring a Geiger counter and a test specimen with me.
    I wonder if my zymurgist friend has ever tried brewing … yes, a Czech recipe beer, with a modest amount of finest Jochimsthal pitchblende. That should give it a bit of “zing”.

  21. I admire both Hirsi Ali and Malala, but I agree wholeheartedly with Alis views on Islam, if that makes me Islamaphobic ,so be it.

  22. More background:

    I don’t know if it’s true that Ayaan had to work for AEI because the progressives didn’t offer her a job.

    In fact she already switched from the left wing PVDA party to the right wing VVD in 2002 when she was still in The Netherlands.
    So the move to AEI kept her on the political right of the spectrum.

    On the other hand, the VVD is also known as a liberal party (The Dutch multi-party system has more dimension to it, so a right wing party can be liberal as well) so from that perspective her move to a conservative think tank may be seen as peculiar.

    1. Now you have to put that in perspective -as you admittedly partly did, the ‘conservative’ VVD party would be considered somewhat left of centre in the USA, methinks. Obama kind.
      Maybe ‘liberal’ is not the right word in an American context, what about ‘libertarian’? I don’t really know, but that appears the best I can come up with.

      Note, I have nothing but admiration for Ayaan. As a previous Dutchman I was *very* ashamed about the moves to deny her Dutch citizenship, which in the end she was granted, after a lot of fuss.
      But she moved to the States, a loss for the Dutch, a gain for the USA, I’d say.

      Ayaan for president? 🙂 She definitely trumps (no pun intended) many of the other candidates.

  23. Since we were talking about the most reviled atheists, I’ll come up with my top 5 most beloved ones.
    It is difficult to limit it to 5
    So let us get started (since this is Jerry’s website, he’s out of competition, hence I snook (snucked?) in a sixth for starters 🙂 )Note, this is not any in order of preference
    Dawkins, of course Hitchins, Ayaan indeed, Eish! only 2 more left
    Who will they be? Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, George Carlin, Heather Hastie, John Cleese, Edward Current, Richard Feynman, Steven Weinberg, Steven Pinker, Frans De Waal (yes, despite his accommodationist stance -which I despise- I still admire the man), Adriaan Kortland, Alexander Logie Du Toit, David Quammen, Matt Ridley, Donald Prothero, Daniel Dennet? and the list goes on.
    Oops! Most of them are white males (just Ayaan and Heather are not), so let us add Joseph Nkundu, Paul Kagame, Nelson Mandela, VS Naipaul and the like. I do not know how atheist they are, but I have great respect. I want a list of 100 most liked atheists 🙂

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