For the past decade, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has stood at the forefront of new thought in the philosophy of Islam and its explanation, and Europeans have plenty to learn from her brave commitment to Enlightenment values – in the face of all that extremism.
Ali will live under a fatwa for the rest of her life as a result of criticizing Islam. However, “even with death threats,” as she says, “I can publish, I can travel and I can live the life that I want.” In 1992, Hirsi Ali disappeared en route from Nairobi, Kenya, to an arranged marriage in Canada. During a stopover in Germany, she gathered her courage and, on the advice of a relative with knowledge of the asylum system, took a train to Holland.
In 2006, she left Holland following a controversy around her citizenship. Arriving in Washington to work as a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, Ali has noticed that Christian America shares on other similarities with mainstream Islam. She says, “More liberal churches are accomplices of jihad.” Who can wonder why she chose America? She effectively changed one fundamentalism for another.
There is something elusive, deeply ambiguous about her whole personality, for who is this modern Atheist Muslim? In Ali’s mind, Islam is no longer the complex, de-centered civilization known to Islamic studies, but is a single essence, fully summarized by literalistic interpretation of the Koran most stringent verses. She also describes how horrified she felt as an adult after Sept. 11, 2001, reaching for the Koran to find out whether some of Osama bin Laden’s more blood-curdling statements — “when you meet the unbelievers, strike them in the neck” — were direct quotations.
“I hated to do it,” she wrote, “because I knew that I would find bin Laden’s quotations in there.” And there were consequences: “The little shutter at the back of my mind, where I pushed all my dissonant thoughts, snapped open after the 9/11 attacks and it refused to close again. I found myself thinking that the Koran is not a holy document. It is a historical record, written by humans. And it is a very tribal and Arab version of events. It spreads a culture that is brutal, bigoted, fixated on controlling women, and harsh in war.”
If, as she hold, modern Indonesian, Bosnian or American Muslim theologies of tolerance and inclusion are, by implication, “exercises in self-deceit,” then the renunciation of beliefs, that is, the denial of what can be doubted, is virtually a dispensable preliminary to perceiving anything clearly and distinctly, to perceiving it with the sort of clarity that is required for a true multicultural and inter-religious dialogue.
Her new book, Nomad (a follow-up to her bestselling memoir Infidel) is a morality play about the evils of Islam, portrayed as a dark Other in the author’s struggle for happiness and enlightenment. However, Islam has been more than just the antagonist. As the new millennium started, and she matured, Nomad became pro vita sua, simultaneously a vindication of her life and of her conversion to the cause of anti-Muslim global crusade.
Elsewhere Ali has explained that religiously specific immigration test should replace the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees. Enlightenment values must be required of all prospective newcomers. She visited the Vatican in an attempt to make them institute educational program for Muslims.
“If you compare the reaction of Christians to what is written about Christianity – Richard Dawkins, who's a supporter, says religion is a form of madness – whereby Christians just shrug their shoulders and don't respond. If you compare the way Muslims take offence at perceived insults that are not insults, but are just a critical way of looking at their religion, then I start to ask myself, why are Muslims so hypersensitive to criticism and why don't they do anything with it except to respond by denying it or playing the victim? And I've come to the conclusion it's because of the gradual indoctrination – from parents, teachers – that everything in the Koran is true; Muhammad is infallible, you have to follow his example and defend Islam at all times, at all costs. Instead of going along as most people are doing now and saying, OK, let's refrain from criticizing Islam, let's refrain from calling Islamic terrorism Islamic, I think we should do the opposite."
This is more easily perceived in Holland, where the rise of Wilders is still unsettling to many, mosque-going politicians and social administrators; integration has been complicated by the murder of her friend Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch journalist with whom she made a film about women and Islam, and excellently engaged by Ian Burama's Murder in Amsterdam, 2007. Wilder goes further in his Zionism, with a proposal that the Netherlands should designate Jordan as the Palestinian state.
Nor are they prone to behave as though they were disciples of Ernest Renan, recognizing with him that Islam is, by definition – nay by actuality, by the irrefutable evidence of experience – the complete negation of Europe. "The future is Europe's, and Europe's alone, “he wrote. “Here is the eternal war, the war which will end only when the last son of Ishmael dies in misery, or is banished through terror to the depths of the desert."
Could it be that patiently working with positive dimensions of immigrant identity will reduce alienation from Dutch society, rather than exacerbate it? Not for Hirsi Ali, who holds that Islamist terrorism in the Netherlands and surrounding countries feeds on the softness of Europeans, and on "a misplaced respect for the immigrants' "culture.”
To Hirsi Ali, the act of speaking out – of saying what no one else will say – seems at this stage to be almost pathologic and overrides all other considerations. "Only an implacable hatred and rejection will win immigrant hearts and minds," she said. If this leads unintentionally to violence (one mosque in Sweden has now logged over 300 acts of vandalism), that is deplorable, but it should never deflect us from our duty to struggle against the Other Within.
Hirsi Ali applies the same argument to global politics. The West's conflicts with Muslim world are typically about Islam: even the Israeli-Palestinian dispute "is no longer about territory"; instead, the Palestinian and Arab position is driven by the project of "a holy war in the name of Allah."