November 27, 2007
Hirsi Ali: Ideological Chameleon
First, I curse SP for pointing out this latest interview with the infuriating headline: Ayaan Hirsi Ali: My life under a fatwa. Boys and girls, we've been over this before. A fatwa is not an ummah-wide execution order, it is a ruling issued by an Islamic scholar in response to a specific legal question. I wrote about this distinction almost two years ago, when Wafa Sultan told the New York Times that Dr. Ibrahim al-Khouli had issued a "fatwa" when he called her an atheist during a TV interview.
Listen, you credulous glurge-sucking Western journalists, just because some idiot Ayatollah lobbed one at Rushdie almost two decades ago doesn't make every random statement by a Muslim (scholar or fanatic) a fatwa. Nor is a fatwa binding across the universe (else a lot of Muslim women with plucked eyebrows are going to hell). Of course, the f-word does score a lot of publicity amongst the chattering classes, which is why every faux reformer wants one.
But let's get on to the actual article, shall we?
Hirsi Ali demonstrates a few things in this interview. First, she is a master of telling people what they want to hear. Even the reporter noticed the "prepacked" nature of her statements:
As we discuss this, I realise there is something odd about this conversation. It is all so disconcertingly normal. Ayaan is speaking in a level voice, at a level volume. If you didn't speak English and you saw us talking, you could assume that we were discussing bus timetables, or the weather. It's not that she seems passionless – not at all – but that her personality seems to be coiled up within her, and I am only seeing the carefully considered tip of it. When she describes the people who want to hack her body to pieces, it is in paragraphs that feel prepacked. Perhaps it is all she can bear to show.
Yes, all she can bear to show in her books, interviews, television appearances and speaking engagements. Poor thing. I'm sure it has nothing to do with her background as a politician, and the importance of carefully framing everything you say to capture the sympathies of your audience...
Hirsi Ali's mother is apparently the poster-child for Muslim women crushed "by the sheer weight of cultural expectation." However, lengthy accounts of screaming matches, fights, suicide attempts and strange behavior in Infidel suggest a family history of mental illness (certainly diagnosed in her sister when she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital). From the article:
"She remained completely dependent," Ayaan says. "She nursed grievances; she was resentful; she was often violent, and she was always depressed." She would take it out on Ayaan, tying her arms behind her back and lashing her with wire for the slightest misdemeanour.
When Ayaan first menstruated, her mother screamed at her: "Filthy prostitute! May you be barren! May you get cancer!" Ayaan tried to commit suicide not long after. But now she says she knows that "all the abuse wasn't really directed at me, but at the world, which had taken her rightful life away."
This is manic behavior, not simply lashing out because one feels oppressed. It is not "normal" in any Western or Eastern sense.
The article then delves into Hirsi Ali's FGM trauma, which is cited as an example of "a culture so patriarchal that it could not tolerate the existence of an unmaimed vagina." Once again, I must point out that her father, the patriarch, said NO to the ritual. Her grandmother, an illiterate tribal folk-Muslim type, did it anyway. Certainly if one observes differing views on FGM within a single Somali family, it's not a huge leap to recognize that millions of Muslims outside sub-Saharan Africa find the practice utterly revolting?
Actually, Hirsi Ali's father is a classic pious middle type. Devout, thoughtful and extremely averse to fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, he manages to undermine her position every time he's mentioned:
Her father...was revolted by the Wahabbism he witnessed in Saudi Arabia, and told her: "This is not Islam – this is Saudis perverting Islam." She hesitates when I ask her about this fracture line in her thinking; I can almost touch the cognitive dissonance.
Sadly, his reasoned approach to religion is lost on his daughter, who never fails to demonstrate her gross ignorance of Islam and its adherents:
"You have to ask – is it a fact that the Prophet Mohamed conquered lands using the sword? Is it a fact that Muslims are commanded to commit jihad? Yes it is."
She has no time for what she sees as the ignorant, woolly Islam-is-peace message of Western liberals, insisting: "I see no difference between Islam and Islamism. Islam is defined as submission to the will of Allah, as it is described in the Koran. Islamism is just Islam in its most pure form. Sayyid Qutb didn't invent anything, he just quoted the sayings of Mohamed."
Nobody has ever commanded me to "commit" jihad. However, if you were raised a Twelver (Irshad Manji) or taught by a pro-Iran political activist in the 1970s (Ayaan Hirsi Ali), it's very likely that you were exposed to that rhetoric. Muslims are not the Borg, context and history matter.
The Islam = Islamism point is hilarious in its absurdity but dangerous in its implications. All Muslims are not Qutbist, period. Not even all Muslim fundamentalists are Qutbist. In fact, I don't even think one could say all Muslim radicals are Qutbist without reservations. None of this is particularly arcane knowledge. I'm a bloody apostate and I know this. It's basic stuff for anyone who writes about Islam, political Islam or MENA affairs.
Moving on, our little journo-buffoon starts to notice that Hirsi Ali's views are as mutable as the weather:
Her alignment with the American right doesn't seem like an easy fit. She is a militant defender of atheism, feminism and gay rights – all forces they have demonised for decades. She is an illegal immigrant, their ultimate hate figure. But, as our interview goes on, I realise she has depressingly begun to adopt some of their ideas. She wants to abolish the minimum wage. She no longer calls for the closing of all faith schools, but simply Muslim ones, because "they are the only ones that do not respect the division between secular and divine law".
She has even begun to touch on the American hard right's preposterous predictions that Muslims are "outbreeding" the continent's traditional populations and will impose sharia law "within decades". When I challenge her on this, she says that "experts" say it is true.
Unsurprising. Hirsi Ali is almost tribal in her outlook, first telling xenophobic Dutch what they want to hear (in socially liberal, socialist, anti-religious terms), then telling xenophobic Americans what they want to hear (in socially conservative, quasi-libertarian, pro-Christianity/Judaism terms). To be accepted into a tribe, one must to champion its values and decry its enemies. Ayaan is simply reinventing herself for US sensibilities, and doesn't seem terribly concerned about the views she's adopting to win hard-right American approval. This observation alone made that treacly mess of an article worth reading.
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Eerie, you have more clear criticism of Ayaan than several pages of poor literary critiques could do... your insight into her pitiful condition is, what can I say, eerie...
I don't know if she's completely lying (she may be deluded or desperate for allies, and consider herself only to be 'modulating' her critique, or she may indeed be just 'choosing her audience' in the most cynical political way - I don't judge her heart, only her words and deeds) - but that aside, your statement that the muslims aren't the borg and not even all 'Islamists' are Qutbians... it's sad that that needs to be said, and I thought Johann Hari was better read than that. Perhaps she was alluding to it by noting that Ayaan's comments seemed 'prepackaged'?
Posted by: dawud at November 27, 2007 05:56 PM
"Xenophobic Dutch" ?
Miss eerie is en fuego after her long hiatus.
Posted by: zenpundit at November 28, 2007 12:12 AM
but that aside, your statement that the muslims aren't the borg and not even all 'Islamists' are Qutbians... it's sad that that needs to be said
Actually, I met one such fellow at a cafe in Istanbul this summer. Very gay, very liberal, quite hostile re Muslim immigrants...yet very attracted to them... (this is why he came to Turkey, in fact)
I think the extent of xenophobia in W. Europe (esp. among those who would seem part of the "Left" in the U.S.) is much underappreciated among Americans.
It's a rather little-known (I think) fact that a surprisingly large proportion of LePen's supporters in France comes from those who would identify themselves as "left," notwithstanding his association with the "far right" in popular imagination. Likewise, one might recall that Pim Fortuyn, the late allegedly "far right" Dutch politician best known for his opposition to Muslim immigrants was a flamboyant, openly gay man who was also an outspoken supporter of welfare state.
Yeah, North American lefties complete ignore the fact that Europeans ("Middle Europe") are racist, nationalist and patriarchal bigots of at least the same intensity as Middle America. It doesn't express itself in exactly the same ways, but still. I mean, social democracy hasn't made Europeans into angels. It's just that they use a better way to serve their self-interest.
Posted by: Frandroid Atreides at November 28, 2007 01:31 AM
Now the real question is: How can you/we get this piece published in MSM?
Posted by: MSK at November 28, 2007 03:33 AM
I sent the above critique to Johann Hari, and his response was as follows (and he was assuming I was the author, although I immediately corrected him):
'I think we disagree about a few things, but also you've made a conceptual error in assuming that i agree with Ayaan on all she says. I was trying to honestly and accurately describe her views and how she thinks, without interjecting my opinions. I was trying to give readers a feeling of what she's like.
I agree with you on the fatwa point though; we don't write our own headlines and I obviously don't use the word 'fatwa' anywhere in the article.'
Posted by: fozia at November 28, 2007 05:38 AM
I am always amused at how defensive journos get.
So fine, he didn't write the headline, but he wrote the following:
"This is the story of the refugee who rocked Islam."
(Really? When? Where? Which Islam would that be?)
"The internet is littered with pledges to torture and slay Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Yet, just a few weeks before we meet in London, the Dutch government has stripped away her security detail. She is paying for her own bodyguards now – and she could soon run out of cash."
(Baaad Europeans! Typical abandoners!)
"Like all Somalian women, she had been pressured all her life to suppress her personality, to sublimate everything to men and to God – to become what Ayaan calls 'a devoted, well-trained work-animal'."
(Yes, ALL Somali women. Every single one of them. )
"When the Ayatollah Khomeini declared that Salman Rushdie should be murdered for what a maniac says in one of his novels, Ayaan wanted him dead."
(Has he actually read the Satanic Verses, or at least the Wiki article on them? Doesn't look like it.)
"She experimented in stepping out on to the streets without her hijab, expecting she would be harassed and raped by the sex-crazed infidel. "
(He makes it almost sound as if AHA had a rape-fantasy ...)
"She lists the awkward truths about the Prophet Mohamed."
(Followed by the usual [sex with a minor, killing Jews, etc.] characterized as "crimes" - this is hardly JH "not interjecting my opinions". He is pretty much publishing AHA's ideas as TRUE.)
"So here she is, with the last sliver of protection she can afford standing between her and the people determined to murder her, still speaking, still fighting."
(Of course, it would've been nice to mention that the reason the Dutch gov't ended funding her protection is that she no longer lives in Holland.)
In the end, it really does look as if Johann Hari has been unable to remain separate from her version of the story. I don't know how much he knows about Islam, Muslims, Somalia, etc. but it appears that he took her assertions at face-value.
That's pretty sad.
Posted by: MSK at November 28, 2007 06:06 AM
I don't disagree with your points here. I put the question of his lack of distance from AHA's assertions to JH, and if he has anything useful to say, I'll report back. It's really poor journalism by *any* standards.
The message and meaning of Islam, for AHA, is defined by her terrible childhood experiences - esp. the genital mutilation - and I think she must be a very wounded person underneath. But her lack of principle, and her expression of views that will help to make victims of ordinary Muslims (if only as victims of yet more misconceptions about their faith, values and lifestyles) makes her very hard to sympathise with, and indeed dangerous to the cause of liberal values of live-and-let-live, accepting cultural and ethical difference and so on.
Posted by: fozia at November 28, 2007 06:20 AM
"In the end, it really does look as if Johann Hari has been unable to remain separate from her version of the story. I don't know how much he knows about Islam, Muslims, Somalia, etc. but it appears that he took her assertions at face-value."
Johann Hari is a extremely leftist journalist, but I don't know about his views on Islam. I guess this goes back what what an earlier commenter said about leftist Europeans.
Posted by: Ali K at November 28, 2007 06:27 AM
"Johann Hari is a extremely leftist journalist"...
Come on, he is a Blairite who supported the war of agression against Iraq...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at November 28, 2007 06:57 AM
Maybe a child adopted by single sex parents will one day turn Hirsi on the gay community. Perhaps JH will care to interview.
Posted by: Shamali at November 28, 2007 07:25 AM
OK, OK....I admit I was egging you on.
I found her little attempt to shift to the Moderate Muslim side by saying that Islam could yet be reformed(in addition to learning to spout American rightist slogans) interesting, though. New markets, new tactics?
As for leftist European journalists, is it really any surprise that many of them are as anti-Islam as rightwingers, if not more so? It's not often that their anti-religion inclinations allow them to feel they really are on the side of popular sentiment. I hear from German friends that the German left is pretty anti-Islam too. Many American secularists/atheists that I hung out with pre 9/11 were similar.
Posted by: SP at November 28, 2007 07:27 AM
"he is a Blairite who supported the war of agression against Iraq"
He did support the war on iraq, but so did Christopher Hitchens. I suppose being socialist and anti-religion puts you firmly in the leftist camp.
Posted by: Ali K at November 28, 2007 07:44 AM
This is actually a much better nuanced article, and in the WaPo, of all places.
Dear Ali K,
Johann Hari strikes me as intelligent, but (woefully) ignorant about the context in which the AHA story plays out - Islam, Somalia, Middle East, Muslim immigrants to Europe, etc.
As for leftist = anti-Islam ... well ... why should leftist Westerners be any better educated about the MidEast/ArabWorld/MuslimWorld than non-leftists? It's not like they all majored in MidEast studies. They're as "orientalized" as anyone else, and as non-cognizant of it.
Posted by: MSK at November 28, 2007 08:10 AM
I agree with the above posts about Euros being far more xenophobic than they are often given credit for. The Netherlands is a case in point. Having spent time there, I could never quite understand that country's reputation for tolerance. Blacks and Indonesians from Holland's former - rather modest - colonial possessions live in ugly housing estates on the outskirts of the larger cities, and small towns are as prim and snow white as any in notoriously xenophobic Switzerland. I suspect Holland's reputation as a haven of tolerance stems from the free drugs, free sex image of Amsterdam. But as any Dutch person will tell you, Amsterdam is as representative of Holland as New York is of the US.
Posted by: SideShowMurphy at November 28, 2007 08:52 AM
Ethnic crime causes racism. Simple as that.
"the late allegedly "far right" Dutch politician best known for his opposition to Muslim immigrants was a flamboyant, openly gay man who was also an outspoken supporter of welfare state."
Setting aside Fortuyn's sexual orientation, the European Right is paternalistic and pioneered the welfare state.
Posted by: zenpundit at November 28, 2007 09:47 AM
But her lack of principle, and her expression of views that will help to make victims of ordinary Muslims (if only as victims of yet more misconceptions about their faith, values and lifestyles) makes her very hard to sympathise with
This is exactly the problem I have with her. MSK and fozia - I agree that this is bad, irresponsible journalism. The WaPo article (which I noticed yesterday in a link from jinni) is much better.
Posted by: eerie at November 28, 2007 11:43 AM
Many things went unchallenged. The thing that struck me is the assumption that Muslims in Africa have a monopoly on FGM.
FGM is practiced by Muslims, Christians and Animists. No one religion has a corner on the practice as it is a tribal, not religious practice. Yet time and time again Muslims, and by extension Islam, are blamed for it.
Bismillah ar-Rahman, ar-Raheem:
I, Abu Sinan (with no valid Islamic credentials), hereby issue a fatwa, binding upon all Muslims, to show Hirsi Ali nothing but love and grant her all the freedom of speech that she, and her audiences can handle.
Posted by: Abu Sinan at November 28, 2007 12:24 PM
Hari is one of that category of writers in the UK who claim to be "of the Decent left" but mainly focus on criticizing anyone else on the left who is actually anti-war. (cf Hitchens, Norm Geras, the people behind the Euston manifesto). Hari himself has distanced himself somewhat from that group, but his basic Decency still shows through a fair amount.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at November 28, 2007 12:34 PM
Ali K: by what stretch of the imagination are Johann Hari and Christopher Hitchens to be described as socialists? I haven't read them championing Naomi Klein or George Monbiot to call them even critical of economic liberalism, let alone socialist. Being somewhat less reactionary than Bush or less neo-liberal than Blair doesn't make you a socialist. I know that Hitchens was formerly known as trotskyite, but so were Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol, if I'm not mistaken.
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at November 28, 2007 01:10 PM
Tom and Ibn Kafka-
Posted by: Ali K at November 28, 2007 01:16 PM
Being European I am very amused at reading that European are racist without any distinction.
At the very moment I am thinking about my former colleagues born and raised in France or UK who consider themselves European even if their families came from Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, India and so on. On one side there are the likes of Le Pen o other xenofobist, on the other side it seems that they are self-haters.
As for the welfare, well, I suppose that maybe some european right parties supported it but I have some problems in remembering which one.
On the whole there's a big difference in what is considered to be left or right and it changes according to the countries.
Posted by: Annarella at November 28, 2007 01:44 PM
Not entirely relevant but I found this very poignant article about how the Blair-Clinton position, what was once known as the centre left is now becoming more and more a centre or even extreme right.
Posted by: Ali K at November 28, 2007 01:46 PM
"by what stretch of the imagination are Johann Hari and Christopher Hitchens to be described as socialists?"
Cannot speak for the former but in my solitary interaction with the latter, I suggested (via an email) that he had made an ideological journey not unlike Podhoretz or Whittaker Chambers, which accounted for his problems with his former comrades.
Hitchens rejected that quite emphatically, particularly the analogy with Podhoretz, whom he seemed to despise; Hitchens still self-identifies with the Left (or at least the Left intellectual tradition).
IMHO, since before the Bolshevik Revolution there have been competing authoritarian/totalitarian and social-democratic factions in the Left and the hardliners can usually be found trying to excommunicate the moderates and dissenters from "the movement" for not adhering to (their extremist) "party line".
Posted by: zenpundit at November 28, 2007 03:50 PM
Briefly as I am fucking bouncing around like a madman:
(i) bravo lazy writers
(ii) Blair Neo Liberal, please my dear fucking French socialist Ibn Kafka, Blair is a slightly liberal statist. Only in in the bizarro world of France is Blair neo Liberal...
(iii) Re hitckens et al. They're more along the lines of the US Neo Cons. They are not liberals in the proper sense, their statist, or interventionist sensibilities from the Left remain in intact, only slightly translated to a hostility to "Left Branded" policies. - BRANDED is the key.
(iv) This and the review are important And IK, you did bloody well promise me a fucking article, mate, and I am bloody well expect eh?
But more seriously, very good. As for the Blair whatever politics, well that is more a Fist Full of Euros convo, eh?
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 28, 2007 04:59 PM
Bonus Decency content: Nick Cohen scolds liberal white people for not taking every word AHA speaks as gospel.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at November 28, 2007 05:19 PM
(1) The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust––a private trust fund that will be entirely dedicated to financing Ayaan’s security. This fund is able to begin accepting donations immediately. . . . (3) Donations to Ayaan’s security from outside the United States can be wired to Haweya, B.V., a special purpose vehicle managed by Ayaan’s lawyers in Amsterdam. All funds received will be spent on Ayaan’s security and to support her projects with Muslim dissidents.
Emphasis added. Agendas expand.
Posted by: mch at November 29, 2007 10:58 AM
Muslim dissidents? What does that mean exactly? I dont like it when she is described as a "Muslim" because she is not. She has rejected Islam and is not a Muslim.
So when the statement says "projects with Muslim dissidents" it is very unclear what that means. AQ are "Muslim dissidents". Keffiyah in Egypt are Muslim dissidents.
A bunch of people who have rejected Islam are not "Muslim" anything.
Are they talking about apostates or people within the Muslim community that have issues with mainstream Muslim practices at the moment?
Either way the money will be wasted and she will have ZERO impact outside of the neo-con/Christian far right.
Posted by: Abu Sinan at November 29, 2007 12:44 PM
Hmmmm..... the mere use of the word 'dissident' is strange. According to the dictionary, a 'dissident' is ' a person who disagrees or dissents'. Now, since Islam is a belief system whose adherents are known as Muslims, isn't the term 'Muslim dissident' something of an oxymoron? If you dissent from a belief system, then you no longer follow that belief system, and hence can no longer number yourself among the followers of that system. Hence, there can be no such thing as a "Muslim dissident".
If we want to follow Abu Sinan and take the view that it's possible to 'dissent' from a particular interpretation of Islam, then shouldn't the term be more specific? As you say, if we are going to use Hirsi Magan's term, people like Al Qaeda can be termed "Muslim dissidents' in that their beliefs dissent wildly from mainstream interpretations of the faith. I suspect, however, that in Hirsi Magan world, this odd term will be used only to refer to the Wafa Sultans and Irshad Manjis of this world - media whores who sell (at a high price) their status as "Muslims" in the service of Zionism and imperialism.
Posted by: SideShowMurphy at November 30, 2007 07:59 AM