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The only reason we pay attention to Ayaan Hirsi Ali is because of the maniacal Muslims who want to murder her. Her superficial insights are made infinitely more interesting by the fact that there are nut jobs out there who would do her in for making them.
Ms. Ali, often and ludicrously called a “defender of the West”, has certainly mastered one of its central elements: capitalism. She has learned to make a living from the fact that her life is threatened. It is a lucrative though precarious path, as recent events make clear.
I think the people who want Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s head are cretins. They are dangerous to all of us. They would have my head and the heads of all the progressive Muslims I know in an instant.
But to make a hero of Ayaan Hirsi Ali because we deplore her would-be killers – to call her books “luminous” as Salman Rushdie and Sam Harris do in a recent International Herald Tribune OpEd – violates some of the central principles of the Enlightenment that these people laughably claim Ali is championing.
Ali’s book Infidel essentially tells a story of a woman’s escape from oppression into freedom, and from the life of a refugee cleaning lady in the Netherlands to a writer and politician. It is a genuinely inspiring tale (even a lyrical one, although reports have surfaced that Ali had a ghost writer), until Ali gets to the point where she says that the entire religion of Islam was not only the cause of her oppression, but is the central cause of oppression in the world, and moreover, it has never been, and can never be, anything but oppressive.
Let’s apply the Enlightenment principle of reason to this narrative, and let’s do it through a story. Let’s say that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, instead of incriminating Islam at the end of her book, blamed another entity whose cultural traditions had more than a little to do with her painful childhood. Let’s say she went after Africa. And let’s say she did it with the same venom and hyperbole.
What if Ali said that all of Africa was benighted and evil? Look at its civil wars, its history of corrupt leaders, its diseases. There is only one solution: we must eradicate its traditions and immediately initiate its hundreds of millions of people into other cultures lest they spread their poison all over the world. In fact, she may well add, the cultural invasion has begun – do you know how many Africans are migrating to Europe?
There would, of course, be an outcry – probably led by the likes of Bono and Angelina Jolie — that would go something like this: “It is a violation of reason and dignity for one person to universalize her experience and say that an entire continent with thousands of years of history is to blame for it.”
Nobody would fete her for “leaving Africa” as they have for her renouncing Islam. They would simply call her an ignoramus and be done with it.
Instead of the talk show circuit, Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be writing bitter articles for xenophobic journals.
Just to continue with our embrace of the Enlightenment, let’s consider a story a little closer to home, a story that focuses on our beloved nation – the one that took Enlightenment principles seriously enough to enshrine them in its founding documents and political institutions.
In Infidel, Ali quotes passages of the Qur’an that are violent, and because she is targeting an audience that either doesn’t know better or doesn’t want to know better, she suggests that those passages represent the whole text, the whole 1400 year history of Islam, its billion plus current adherents.
Let’s say that Ms. Ali was flipping through the U.S. Constitution and the first passage she read was the one that said people of her skin color counted as three-fifths of a person. Let’s say that Ms. Ali opened an American history book and read only the chapter on the slave trade. Let’s say the first Americans she met were the racists who drove around Jena during the protests with nooses hanging off their pick up trucks. Let’s say she connects these dots into a story – the story of America’s inevitable, oppressive racism.
But wait a minute you say … that’s not all the Constitution says. That’s not the entirety of American history, nor the whole of the American population.
But she’s got her story, and she’s taking it to the bank.
If you’re going to buy into the universal principles of the Enlightenment, then you should apply them in a universal and enlightened way.
To all those who claim Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the new face of the West:
If your ulterior motive is to deepen a narrative intended to make Muslims in North America and Europe seem and feel forever foreign – to write an entire religion out of entire continents for the foreseeable future – I suggest you reflect deeply on your bedrock principles and your core identity.
If you think the West is about marginalizing large groups of people and maligning their traditions, then Ayaan Hirsi Ali is defending it. If you believe, as I do, that the West is characterized by reason and pluralism, then Ayaan Hirsi Ali is attacking its essence.
Finally, and for the record, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali applied for refugee status in America and requested protection from the government, I would support her application and offer my tax dollars to ensure her safety.
She is repulsive to my Muslim faith and my Enlightenment sensibilities, but those same traditions cause me to wish her no harm.