Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Assassination of Character

When Christopher Hitchens and Dennis Prager are on the same side, it must be about something extroadinary. And indeed it is, for both have come out today in defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali born woman who defied the Islamic culture she was brought up in to live a free and independent life as chronicled in her bestselling book "Infidel". You wouldn't think that Ali would require defending from the Anglo-American media, but these are very strange and disturbing times we live in. Here is Hitchens in Slate:
Ali's best seller Infidel, which describes the escape of a young Somali woman from sexual chattelhood to a new life in Holland and then (after the slaying of her friend Theo van Gogh) to a fresh exile in the United States. Two of our leading intellectual commentators, Timothy Garton Ash (in the New York Review of Books) and Ian Buruma, described Hirsi Ali, or those who defend her, as "Enlightenment fundamentalist[s]." In Sunday's New York Times Book Review, Buruma made a further borrowing from the language of tyranny and intolerance and described her view as an "absolutist" one.

Now, I know both Garton Ash and Buruma, and I remember what fun they used to have, in the days of the Cold War, with people who proposed a spurious "moral equivalence" between the Soviet and American sides. Much of this critique involved attention to language. Buruma was very mordant about those German leftists who referred to the "consumer terrorism" of the federal republic. You can fill in your own preferred example here; the most egregious were (and, come to think of it, still are) those who would survey the U.S. prison system and compare it to the Gulag.

In her book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the following: "I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and sexual emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values." This is a fairly representative quotation. She has her criticisms of the West, but she prefers it to a society where women are subordinate, censorship is pervasive, and violence is officially preached against unbelievers. As an African victim of, and escapee from, this system, she feels she has acquired the right to say so. What is "fundamentalist" about that?

The Feb. 26 edition of Newsweek takes up where Garton Ash and Buruma leave off and says, in an article by Lorraine Ali, that, "It's ironic that this would-be 'infidel' often sounds as single-minded and reactionary as the zealots she's worked so hard to oppose." I would challenge the author to give her definition of irony and also to produce a single statement from Hirsi Ali that would come close to materializing that claim. Accompanying the article is a typically superficial Newsweek Q&A sidebar, which is almost unbelievably headed: "A Bombthrower's Life." The subject of this absurd headline is a woman who has been threatened with horrific violence, by Muslims varying from moderate to extreme, ever since she was a little girl. She has more recently had to see a Dutch friend butchered in the street, been told that she is next, and now has to live with bodyguards in Washington, D.C. She has never used or advocated violence. Yet to whom does Newsweek refer as the "Bombthrower"? It's always the same with these bogus equivalences: They start by pretending loftily to find no difference between aggressor and victim, and they end up by saying that it's the victim of violence who is "really" inciting it.

Garton Ash and Buruma would once have made short work of any apologist who accused the critics of the U.S.S.R. or the People's Republic of China of "heating up the Cold War" if they made any points about human rights. Why, then, do they grant an exception to Islam, which is simultaneously the ideology of insurgent violence and of certain inflexible dictatorships? Is it because Islam is a "faith"? Or is it because it is the faith—in Europe at least—of some ethnic minorities? In neither case would any special protection from criticism be justified. Faith makes huge claims, including huge claims to temporal authority over the citizen, which therefore cannot be exempt from scrutiny. And within these "minorities," there are other minorities who want to escape from the control of their ghetto leaders. (This was also the position of the Dutch Jews in the time of Spinoza.) This is a very complex question, which will require a lot of ingenuity in its handling. The pathetic oversimplification, which describes skepticism, agnosticism, and atheism as equally "fundamentalist," is of no help here. And notice what happens when Newsweek takes up the cry: The enemy of fundamentalism is defined as someone on the fringe while, before you have had time to notice the sleight of hand, the aggrieved, self-pitying Muslim has become the uncontested tenant of the middle ground.


And here's Prager at TownHall.com:
In 1932-33, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty reported from the Soviet Union that there was no Communist-induced famine in the Ukraine, indeed, that no one was dying of starvation there. In fact, between 4 and 7 million Ukrainians were starved to death by Stalin's regime. Though Duranty's name has since been synonymous with Westerners who hid the evil committed by enemies of the West and enemies of liberty, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his false reporting.

An unwillingness to identify evil and a desire to hurt those who do confront it were not confined to Western fellow travelers during the age of Communism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks to The Associated Press in New York, Monday, Feb.5, 2007. Her latest book "The Infidel: The Story of My Enlightenment" is an autobiography which gives a graphic account of how she rejected her faith and the violence she says was inflicted on her in the name of Islam. Hirsi Ali is also a writer of the film "Submission," which criticized the treatment of women in traditional Islam, and led to the murder of her friend and colleague, filmmaker Theo van Gogh, on an Amsterdam street.

To cite one contemporary example, we have Newsweek senior writer Lorraine Ali. She recently reviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography, "Infidel," the story of Hirsi Ali's life as a Muslim girl and woman that led her to flee to the West, where she became a member of the Dutch Parliament and recently moved to America. Hirsi Ali is perhaps the most eloquent defender of Muslim women and gays living today. But to Newsweek's Lorraine Ali, the Islamists are not the problem, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is.
...
But for Newsweek's senior writer Lorraine Ali, Hirsi Ali is no protector of women and gays in Muslim societies. She is, rather, a "bombthrower," and the book is "single-minded and reactionary," written to appease "right-wingers."

To characterize Hirsi Ali -- rather than the people she is fighting in the Islamic world at the risk of her life -- as a "bombthrower" is almost beyond belief. But Newsweek may have hired an Islamist fellow traveler to cover these issues, just as in the Stalin era, Western media had some leftist fellow travelers on their staffs. That is almost certainly why Lorraine Ali wrote in her review, "In describing the 9/11 hijackers, [Hirsi Ali] comes up with an inflammatory conclusion tailor-made for her right-wing constituency: 'It was not a lunatic fringe who felt this way about America and the West. I knew that a vast majority of Muslims would see the attacks as justified retaliation against the infidel enemies of Islam.'"

Apparently Newsweek's senior writer is not aware or does not wish to acknowledge that, according to polls, a great many of those living in Muslim countries do indeed regard 9/11 as "justified retaliation against the infidel enemies of Islam" -- that is, if they even acknowledge that it was Muslims who perpetrated 9-11's terror.

Moreover, note the use of the words "right-wing" and "reactionary" to describe Hirsi Ali and her views. To Newsweek's Lorraine Ali, a woman who is a feminist, atheist, pro-gay and combats the greatest religious extremism of our time is "right-wing" and "reactionary."

Just as during the Cold War the Left was divided between those who fought Communism and those who fought anti-Communism, the Left today will have to decide whether it wants to fight Islamists or anti-Islamists. At least in this instance, Newsweek has decided to go with Lorraine Ali and fight those fighting Islamism, even when those fighting the Islamists are pro-gay, feminist atheists who only care about the greatest oppression of gays and women in the world at this time.


Hitchens and Prager have said everything that I would say, and better. It's time to stand with people of character like Ali against tyrants and their fellow travelers.

1 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Amen.

One wonders, though, how much "public intellectuals" are worth.

I read once that the left deviation of Lovestoneiteism, which ate up comparable yardages of publications like The New York Review back in the '30s, concerned a Marxist movement with exactly seven (count 'em - 7) adherents.

I'd go further than saying we ought to make fun of people like Ash and Buruma when they're wrong. I think we ought to hoot and jeer at them when they are right, too.

March 08, 2007 10:01 PM  

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