We’ve profiled Ms. Ali before. She has also appeared as a guest on Glenn Back. So here is another enlightening piece on what happens when you question Islam.
NEW YORK–Ayaan Hirsi Ali is untrammeled and unrepentant: “I am supposed to apologize for saying the prophet is a pervert and a tyrant,” she declares. “But that is apologizing for the truth.”
Statements such as these have brought Ms. Hirsi Ali to world-wide attention. Though she recently left her adopted country, Holland–where her friend and intellectual collaborator Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004–she is still accompanied by armed guards wherever she travels.
Ms. Hirsi Ali was born in 1969 in Mogadishu–into, as she puts it, “the Islamic civilization, as far as you can call it a civilization.” In 1992, at age 22, her family gave her hand to a distant relative; had the marriage ensued, she says, it would have been “an arranged rape.” But as she was shipped to the appointment via Europe, she fled, obtaining asylum in Holland. There, “through observation, through experience, through reading,” she acquainted herself with a different world. “The culture that I came to and I live in now is not perfect,” Ms. Hirsi Ali says. “But this culture, the West, the product of the Enlightenment, is the best humanity has ever achieved.”
Unease over Muslim immigration had been rising in the Low Countries for some time. For instance, when the gay right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn–“I am in favor of a cold war with Islam,” he said, and believed the borders should be closed to Muslims–was gunned down in 2002, it was widely assumed his killer was an Islamist. There was a strange sense of relief when he turned out to be a mere animal-rights activist. Ms. Hirsi Ali brought integration issues to further attention, exposing domestic abuse and even honor killings in the Dutch-Muslim “dish cities.”
In 2003, she won a seat in the parliament as a member of the center-right VVD Party, for People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. The next year, she wrote the script for a short film called “Submission.” It investigated passages from the Quran that Ms. Hirsi Ali contends authorize violence against women, and did so by projecting those passages onto naked female bodies. In retrospect, she deeply regrets the outcome: “I don’t think the film was worth the human life.”
The life in question was that of Van Gogh, a prominent controversialist and the film’s director. At the end of 2004, an Islamist named Mohammed Buyeri shot him as he was bicycling to work in downtown Amsterdam, then almost decapitated him with a curved sword. He left a manifesto impaled to the body: “I know for sure that you, Oh Hirsi Ali, will go down,” was its incantation. “I know for sure that you, Oh unbelieving fundamentalist, will go down.”
The shock was palpable. Holland–which has the second largest per capita population of Muslims in the EU, after France–had always prided itself on its pluralism, in which all groups would be tolerated but not integrated. The killing made clear just how apart its groups were. “Immediately after the murder,” Ms. Hirsi Ali says, “we learned Theo’s killer had access to education, he had learned the language, he had taken welfare. He made it very clear he knew what democracy meant, he knew what liberalism was, and he consciously rejected it. . . . He said, ‘I have an alternative framework. It’s Islam. It’s the Quran.’ ”
At his sentencing, Mohammed Buyeri said he would have killed his own brother, had he made “Submission” or otherwise insulted the One True Faith. “And why?” Ms. Hirsi Ali asks. “Because he said his god ordered him to do it. . . . We need to see,” she continues, “that this isn’t something that’s caused by special offense, the right, Jews, poverty. It’s religion
Ms. Hirsi Ali was forced into living underground; a hard-line VVD minister named Rita Verdonk, cracking down on immigration, canceled her citizenship for misstatements made on her asylum application–which Ms. Hirsi Ali had admitted years before and justified as a means to win quicker admission at a time of great personal vulnerability. The resulting controversy led to the collapse of Holland’s coalition government. Ms. Hirsi Ali has since decamped for America–in effect a political refugee from Western Europe–to take up a position with the American Enterprise Institute. But the crisis, she says, is “still simmering underneath and it might erupt–somewhere, anywhere.”
That partly explains why Ms. Hirsi Ali’s new autobiography, “Infidel,” is already a best seller. It may also have something to do with the way she scrambles our expectations. In person, she is modest, graceful, enthralling. Intellectually, she is fierce, even predatory: “We know exactly what it is about but we don’t have the guts to say it out loud,” she says. “We are too weak to take up our role. The West is falling apart. The open society is coming undone.”
Many liberals loathe her for disrupting an imagined “diversity” consensus: It is absurd, she argues, to pretend that cultures are all equal, or all equally desirable. But conservatives, and others, might be reasonably unnerved by her dim view of religion. She does not believe that Islam has been “hijacked” by fanatics, but that fanaticism is intrinsic in Islam itself: “Islam, even Islam in its nonviolent form, is dangerous.”
The Muslim faith has many variations, but Ms. Hirsi Ali contends that the unities are of greater significance. “Islam has a very consistent doctrine,” she says, “and I define Islam as I was taught to define it: submission to the will of Allah. His will is written in the Quran, and in the hadith and Sunna. What we are all taught is that when you want to make a distinction between right and wrong, you follow the prophet. Muhammad is the model guide for every Muslim through time, throughout history.”
This supposition justifies, in her view, a withering critique of Islam’s most holy human messenger. “You start by scrutinizing the morality of the prophet,” and then ask: “Are you prepared to follow the morality of the prophet in a society such as this one?” She draws a connection between Mohammed’s taking of child brides and modern sexual oppressions–what she calls “this imprisonment of women.” She decries the murder of adulteresses and rape victims, the wearing of the veil, arranged marriages, domestic violence, genital mutilation and other contraventions of “the most basic freedoms.”
These sufferings, she maintains, are traceable to theological imperatives. “People say it is a bad strategy,” Ms. Hirsi Ali says forcefully. “I think it is the best strategy. . . . Muslims must choose to follow their rational capacities as humans and to follow reason instead of Quranic commands. At that point Islam will be reformed.”
This worldview has led certain critics to dismiss Ms. Hirsi Ali as a secular extremist. “I have my ideas and my views,” she says, “and I want to argue them. It is our obligation to look at things critically.” As to the charges that she is an “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” she points out, rightly, that people who live in democratic societies are not supposed to settle their disagreements by killing one another.
And yet contemporary democracies, she says, accommodate the incitement of such behavior: “The multiculturalism theology, like all theologies, is cruel, is wrongheaded, and is unarguable because it is an utter dogmatism. . . . Minorities are exempted from the obligations of the rest of society, so they don’t improve. . . . With this theory you limit them, you freeze their culture, you keep them in place.”
The most grievous failing of the West is self-congratulatory passivity: We face “an external enemy that to a degree has become an internal enemy, that has infiltrated the system and wants to destroy it.” She believes a more drastic reaction is required: “It’s easy,” she says, “to weigh liberties against the damage that can be done to society and decide to deny liberties. As it should be. A free society should be prepared to recognize the patterns in front of it, and do something about them.”
She says the West must begin to think long term about its relationship with Islam–because the Islamists are. Ms. Hirsi Ali notes Muslim birth rates are vastly outstripping those elsewhere (particularly in Western Europe) and believes this is a conscious attempt to extend the faith. Muslims, she says, treat women as “these baby-machines, these son-factories. . . . We need to compete with this,” she goes on. “It is a totalitarian method. The Nazis tried it using women as incubators, literally to give birth to soldiers. Islam is now doing it. . . . It is a very effective and very frightening way of dealing with human beings.”
All of this is profoundly politically incorrect. But for this remarkable woman, ideas are not abstractions. She forces us back to first principles, and she punctures complacencies. These ought to be seen as virtues, even by those who find some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s ideas disturbing or objectionable. Society, after all, sometimes needs to be roused from its slumbers by agitators who go too far so that others will go far enough.