Friday, March 02, 2007

Love and hate

With the publication of her autobiography, Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has confirmed what many of her critics claim: that she is divisive. This is the essence of Timothy Garton Ash's reservations about her; she doesn't encourage dialogue between the 'civilisations' - she divides them very clearly one from the other and is immoderate in her language to boot. Ash believes that there is a Third Way to be discovered that is neither Islamist nor "Enlightenment fundamentalist" and identifies it with such figures as Tariq Ramadan, who will "obey the laws, but only insofar as they don't force me to do anything against my religion." Ali doesn't make any concessions in this direction.

The big question is whether there can be a Third Way. If you believe there can be, then she is a most inconvenient figure. If you don't believe that Islam can contentedly exist as a minority culture within a dominant secular one, then she is a voice in the wilderness. Well, a wilderness that is getting very crowded. Personally, I tend towards the second position. It may be that my experience is very limited, but I am waiting to see devout Muslims (as opposed to people who are as Muslim as I am Catholic) enter enthusiastically into the body politic and contribute something that is not either a whinge or outrageous demands. I am, however, willing to be convinced otherwise.

Hirsi Ali is, if nothing else, a lightening rod, and by their lights shall they be known. There's been a fascinating discussion of Ali herself, but also of the issues she raises about multiculturalism at signandsight. This by Ulrike Ackermann is the latest contribution. She sees Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash through the prism of the Cold War when so many intellectuals would criticise Stalin but not Communism and

had reservations about eastern European dissidents because they were only fighting for the so-called "bourgeois liberties." Many dreamed at the time of a "third way" between capitalism and communism.
She goes on
For Hirsi Ali, the legacy of the Enlightenment - the separation of religion and state, political and individual rights, self-determination of the individual, reason and the equality of the sexes - are of fundamental importance, and so they should be. To have to defend these against an accusation of fundamentalism is, given the situation in which we find ourselves, pretty ludicrous.
On the other hand, there is this review of Hirsi Ali's autobiography by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
How does one comment objectively on anything Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes, says or does? The rebel against Islam has to be held aloft, coddled and paraded in defiance of her obscurantist foes who want to cut her into pieces.
What does this opening foreshadow? Discomfort, I would say. An awkwardness about someone who has risked her life to defend the rights of women but is saying a lot of uncomfortable things about the multicultural dream that Alibhai-Brown preaches. How does one excape such a dilemma? Snide insinuation.
With Ali we also have to allow for falsehood and duplicity. Her fabrications to get political asylum in the Netherlands were recently exposed. Yet she had spent years condemning "foreign" asylum seekers who do the same. No matter. She has got into political high places, moved from the left to the right, and is a mascot of liberal fundamentalists. The seraph is much adored.
"Falsehood and duplicity". Alibhai-Brown wants you to read Ali's book with those words in mind. The good journalist neglects to explain that Ali herself confessed to her "fabrications" long before they were "exposed". And that is it. She lied to escape an arranged marriage and so cannot be trusted on anything else, according to this view. (And the only word I can find for her last sentence is bitchy.)

Jay Nordlinger asks why Ali is hated so, why "they [don't] come out and attack her frontally — they just snipe at her, sniff at her."
I actually think that Hirsi Ali makes them ashamed — makes her critics ashamed. They know that she is courageous, that she has put her life on the line, that she sees into the heart of the major problem of our time. They hate her the way people hate anyone who delivers a message they can’t stand to hear.

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