What surprised me the most about Hirsi Ali was her relative ignorance of world events. Given the amount of coverage she gets this is a very dangerous thing. For example, to state that the election of Hamas in Palestine or the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt indicates an upsurge in fundamentalism is really quite an ignorant statement. Might it have something to do with Hamas’s successful grassroots welfare programs and Fatah’s corruption in Palestine, or the Mubarak Regime’s repressiveness in Egypt? What about socioeconomics? Why are people generally more religious in those parts of the Occupied Territories (Gaza, Nablus) that are under the most oppressive conditions? Oh it must all be Islam’s fault. Sounds frightfully like dogma to me.
What about the decisive role played by the US in funding and training Wahhabi militants to fight in Afghanistan? Yes Pakistan and the Saudis (and others) were involved, and they ought to be called to account for their roles, but this support was under the wider rubric of American policy. What about Israel’s support of Hamas as a religious competitor to the secular PLO? And, of course, one should not forget that Bush got into the White House thanks to the Christian vote. A sizeable amount of this vote look forward to the day of Armageddon when they, the true Christians, go to heaven and the rest of us along with the planet are destroyed. For a country with the capacity to obliterate the planet this is a terrifying state of affairs. I wonder if Hirsi Ali has any views on that? Perhaps she can ask Dick Cheney at the next American Enterprise Institute cocktail party.
It’s worth considering for a moment where the fingers get pointed. Every one of us has a mythical Goldstein character who is the root cause of all evil. For a lot of atheists, religion is that evil. Yet more people die because of economic ideology, such as the policies that prevent people from access to cheap medicines or food, than are killed by religious fanatics. Economic theory is one of the most dangerous ideologies on the planet, as is well understood by many of the most eminent economists. Yet I doubt someone like Dawkins knows two ships about it.
It’s also worth considering that a large percentage of the world’s finest scientists spend their days developing better ways to kill or torture people. You do realize someone had to design cluster bombs, right? Why don’t we have a war on science?
I have no reason to doubt Hirsi Ali’s sincerity. And yes she is brave, braver than us perhaps, but frankly not that brave. She may be brown skinned and have a Muslim name, she may even have a compliment of burly guards, but she is now part of the Western elite.
If we want to practice our ‘western’ enlightenment principles we should honestly appraise her arguments for what they are. The truth is her work is badly argued, poorly researched and is of limited practical use to those with an interest in coexistence between people of different backgrounds. That is, coexistence as opposed to expropriation by one group of another. Her audience is predominantly white or privileged non-whites and the only option she offers for Muslims who doubt their faith, and there are several reasons to doubt it, is to denounce the faith in such a manner that does not offer any room for dialogue.
The biggest problem with Hirsi Ali is that she is a brown person who tells a lot of white folks what they want to hear. If you want to read something more insightful from progressive Muslim voices, tuck into some Eqbal Ahmed or Mamood Mamdani. They’re not as attractive as Hirsi Ali, nor do they get funding from right wing think tanks. But they might just learn you a thing or too.
Just for the record, I am an atheist, and a Muslim. I don’t think religion is a source of objective truth. But I don’t think atheism of itself offers many answers on most social issues. Atheism itself is not a value system but merely a statement on the existence of god and the veracity of theology.
© Irfan Yusuf 2007