Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In May of this year Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote an op-ed piece for the LA Times about "Islamism" in Tukish politics which I thought about responding to at the time. Now I see that more capable voices, namely that of Yale political theorist Seyla Benhabib, have done the work for me. In the latest issue of Dissent, Benhabib says to an interviewer,
Miss Ayaan Hirsi Ali has now assumed a public role of exaggerating and driving Islam and everything related to Islam into the corner of fascism or a kind of theocracy. Her statement is simply uninformed. It is not a statement that can be taken seriously by anybody who is a democrat. First of all, there is no danger of Islamic theocracy in Turkey. I can assure you there will be a civil war in Turkey before there will be a theocracy.


Miss Hirsi Ali’s language is a language of confrontation that basically presents a homogeneous, orthodox Islam as closed to reform and transformation. And it is a language that presents a unified, uncritical and un-reflectively positive view of liberal democracies--as if they didn't have their own problems and reasons to be criticized. Miss Hirsi Ali has taken a decision to work with the American Enterprise Institute and to interfere politically and publicly through the American Enterprise Institute, which is a well-known right-wing think tank based in Washington. I have respect for her sufferings as a woman and as an individual, but I regret that this is the way in which she has chosen to talk about these issues that are very important to all of us.
I don't think we've spoken much of Ali here on the blog, but she's certainly provided a site for much discussion within liberal and conservative circles. (Partial) detractors include Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma. Defenders include Pascal Bruckner. The debate basically happened here, in the pages of the European intellectual magazine Sight and Sight, and in an Ash NYRB piece.

I've read several articles by Ali at this point, and, despite not having read her books yet, it seems to me that the hubbub has more to do with what one thinks of Ali as a symbol than with what she actually has to say as an individual. Obviously (and I am totally sympathetic with her here), Ali survived a repressive and no doubt terrifying childhood under an extreme form of Islamist fundamentalism, one that I, as a privileged secular Westerner, could not possibly fully grasp.

Yet her role since that time appears to be one of increasing "poster girl"-ism, in the sense that one dare not disagree with Ali's hardline anti-Islam attitude for fear of being labeled a hypocritical liberal, one that turns a blind eye to the plight of women under Islam. (This charge generally comes from people who support the war in Iraq and/or those who can barely be bothered to speak up about women's rights domestically). And as Benhabib says, Ali has aligned herself with the American Enterprise Institute, a move that would automatically disqualify anyone else from being taken seriously by anyone with even slightly liberal leanings. (Curry King has recently pointed out that the AEI is largely responsible for the recent "surge" implementation and propaganda.) So it appears that Ali has fallen victim to an instance of a fallacious "not-P, therefore Q" argument, whereby since she is not a fan of fundamentalist Islam (and who is, exactly?), she is therefore a fellow at a think tank full of right-wing reactionaries. Or perhaps she simply is an arch-conservative in the mold of AEI "scholars" Fred Kagan, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle and John Yoo, in which case I have no sympathy for her political views at all.


Blogger Sebonde said...

Scantron, you know I love you. Your pugilistic prose makes me priapic, and if I were not inalterably opposed to gay "marriage", I would want to elope to Boston with you. But for the love of God or whomever or whatever you regard as the absolute, would you please stop referring that bastion of neo-Jacobinism, the AEI, as "right-wing"?! It makes a social conservative like me nostalgic for the return of Catholic feudalism just cringe. If Ms. Magan's membership in the AEI shows anything, it shows this, that the Clash of Civilization wackos don't have in mind the final war between the Christian West and Islam, as their evangelical useful idiots think and hope, but the Jacobin dream of universalizing the Supreme Being of liberalism with guns. Ayaan Hirsi Magan is not just anti-Islamist. She is an atheist who regards anything short of the embrace of legal positivism and pornography as dangerous religious fanaticism that should be run over by the juggernaut of neo-liberal inevitability. I am truly a man of the Right. I want the Catholic Monarchy back. Ms. Magan wants the world to be ruled by Spinoza, Voltaire, and, yes, Adam Smith. Please, don't lump wackjobs like me in with wackjobs like her.

6:01 AM  

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