I started writing this post hoping to craft an argument that Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a Somali-born atheist (formerly Muslim), a former member of the Dutch Parliament, a screenwriter threatened with assassination for helpng Theo van Gogh (who was assassinated) criticize Islam’s treatment of women, a feminist critic of Islam who has won acclaim across the political spectrum in the US and Europe – ought to avoid testifying in forthcoming hearings on Islamic terrorism out of enlightened self-interest. The hearings have never been about anything but attacking Muslims in America, continuing the crusade against the Murfreesboro mosque and the lower Manhattan Muslim community center (not at Ground Zero, not a mosque), and committee chairman King is a widely-reviled bigot.
I wanted to observe that the noted feminist would be speaking at the behest of an opponent of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I wanted to argue that committee chairman Rep Peter King (R-NY) was a torture advocate, self-described as “most fervent fan” of the civil liberties-choking Patriot Act, and was so friendly to the IRA before they foreswore violence that he proudly called himself “the Ollie North of Ireland.” He told Politico in 2007: “We have – unfortunately – too many mosques in this country,” and surely she wouldn’t want to be associated with his regressive, repressive, illiberal agenda!
I wanted to say that no one who had survived the horrors of Somalia, who had been through enormous difficulties in escaping an arranged marriage and immigrating to a western democracy could want to support the reactionary, repressive, anti-immigrant buffoon who would be inviting her to testify. However nuanced and thoughtful her opposition to Islam, I wanted to argue, Hirsi Ali’s words would be twisted by the committee and by press coverage and used to justify scapegoating moderate American Muslims, including those who have helped foil terrorist plots (which King denies ever happens). I wanted to push back against Think Progress’s description of her as a reactionary on par with King.
I wanted to echo Christopher Hitchens’ summary of her views, and to say that Rep. King would not be interested in promoting this message:
Hirsi Ali calls for a pluralist democracy where all opinion is protected but where the law does not—in the name of some pseudo-tolerance—permit genital mutilation, “honor” killing, and forced marriage.
I wanted to say that King’s agenda is a monomaniacal crusade against Muslims, ignoring terrorist attacks like the bomb detected before detonation at Spokane’s Martin Luther King Day parade, the Glen Beck-inspired kooks who have launched multiple murderous attacks, anti-abortion terrorism, the attack on Rep. Giffords, Oklahoma City, the “Minutemen” vigilantes, and other decidedly non-Muslim terrorists. I wanted to say that Hirsi Ali would not possibly support such a distraction from real terrorist threats, and I wanted to note that someone who has lived in the US for longer, and has more experience with violent extremists here, would be a more effective messenger in that effort to broaden the hearing’s scope. I wanted to respect her as much as many of my favorite bloggers seem to do.
Alas, I made the mistake of researching Hirsi Ali before posting, and my lines about her nuanced and sophisticated take on the situation, my attempts to see the best in her view, were consistently foiled by her actual words. I simply cannot say that Hirsi Ali’s views would be twisted to match King’s, because I think they are already aligned.
Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?
Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.
Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?
Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.
Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.
(All emphasis original.)
I don’t claim to fully understand the path she’s describing, in which Islam is defeated – all of it (but not really the peaceful moderate part that apparently doesn’t exist) – then some part that wasn’t entirely defeated comes back to reform Islam’s legacy. It’s weird and self-contradictory, but let’s ascribe this to the difficulty of laying out complex ideas on the fly. Regardless of details, though, her message is clear: Islam must be defeated, crushed, with muscle, with the military, as an idea, and in the minds and bodies of 1.5 billion Muslims.
We’ve talked a bit about violent rhetoric lately, and I have a hard time seeing how the already threatened Muslim populations in the US are going to be safer when – in a House committee with CSPAN cameras and other media crowded around – a woman who looks like part of their community says that Islam is America’s enemy, that it must be “crushed,” that “you” (America? Americans?) must “flex your muscles” and “you” say “this is a warning” to Islam and to all Muslims. I think a lot of American Muslims already see their neighbors flexing muscles at them and giving these sorts of ill-defined threats. I can only see harm to my friends and neighbors coming from such rhetoric, and I’m sure it’s exactly what Peter King will want to hear.
I think he’ll also want to hear her reactionary views on civil liberties:
Hirsi Ali: The Egyptian dictatorship would not allow many radical imams to preach in Cairo, but they’re free to preach in giant mosques in London. Why do we allow it?
Reason: You’re in favor of civil liberties, but applied selectively?
Hirsi Ali: No. Asking whether radical preachers ought to be allowed to operate is not hostile to the idea of civil liberties; it’s an attempt to save civil liberties. A nation like this one is based on civil liberties, and we shouldn’t allow any serious threat to them. So Muslim schools in the West, some of which are institutions of fascism that teach innocent kids that Jews are pigs and monkeys—I would say in order to preserve civil liberties, don’t allow such schools.
Reason: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit system for Islamic schools, correct?
Hirsi Ali: I wanted to get rid of them. …
Reason: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, which guarantees that religious movements may teach children in religious schools and says the government must pay for this if minimum standards are met. So it couldn’t be done. Would you in fact advocate that again?
Hirsi Ali: Oh, yeah.
Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—
Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle. I’ve been saying this in Australia and in the U.K. and so on, and I get exactly the same arguments: The Constitution doesn’t allow it. But we need to ask where these constitutions came from to start with—what’s the history of Article 23 in the Netherlands, for instance? There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written. There were no jihadists. They had no idea.
Reason: Do you believe that the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights—documents from more than 200 ago – ought to change?
Hirsi Ali: They’re not infallible. These Western constitutions are products of the Enlightenment. They’re products of reason, and reason dictates that you can only progress when you can analyze the circumstances and act accordingly. So now that we live under different conditions, the threat is different. Constitutions can be adapted, and they are, sometimes. The American Constitution has been amended a number of times. With the Dutch Constitution, I think the latest adaptation was in 1989. Constitutions are not like the Koran—nonnegotiable, never-changing.
Every reactionary movement and every anti-democratic demagogue through history has made claims like “we have to destroy the Constitution to save it” or “we must restrict civil liberties to preserve them.” And yeah, that includes Rep. King, as it includes his hero “Tailgunner Joe” McCarthy. I cannot take seriously anyone who would argue with a straight face: “Asking whether radical preachers ought to be allowed to operate is not hostile to the idea of civil liberties.” It’s the very archetypical attack on civil liberties!
Like Hitchens, I wanted to believe Hirsi Ali just wants “a pluralist democracy where all opinion is protected,” but she doesn’t. She wants a pluralistic democracy where opinions like her own are protected, and that’s a problem, because then it stops being a democracy, and it isn’t pluralistic. Her right to get up and speak in Washington can only exist when a radical imam can speak freely down the street. I wanted to believe her claim that she is not against Muslim people, but against Islam – especially against Islam as a political movement. I don’t believe that any more. Maybe she and King deserve each other.
Similarly, I wanted to believe that Hirsi Ali would not wish to lend her support to Peter King’s anti-immigrant agenda, since she herself has seen how hard it is to get refuge in the West from repressive regimes, and she shows how much an immigrant can achieve under such circumstances. And yet I find that she worked with a reactionary, anti-Muslim Dutch politician to restrict immigration from the Muslim world, and continues to advocate for restrictions on immigration.
I wanted to see the good in her that so many liberal secularists do, but I can’t.
I think she and Rep. Peter King deserve each other.