Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: "Do we tolerate another culture's intolerance"?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about feminist opposition to "safe spaces" and free speech, within contexts of defending Islam. Ayaan Hirsi Ali joins this with calls for an Islamic reformation. She encourages dissent by those who reject its spurious claims of peace and who reject its political ideology of violence. A very learned friend of mine responded with his nuanced, considered comments, about the relative progress of Muslim legal and academic culture. On FB, where I posted an excerpt from Ali, others attacked Islam and defended Ali in turn. I weighed in cautiously but in favor of Ali, as deserving a hearing. For she knows firsthand the cost of sharia and the discrimination against women, rebels, non-Muslims, and freethinkers.

Today I found posted via another learned friend on FB this 3/24/15 article by Ali from the Huffington Post: "From Selma to Tunis: When Will We March Against the Segregation of Our Own Time?"
While I got blowback from citing that related Ali piece, I feel she merits thoughtful attention. For she makes, as with the Reformation, another telling analogy which may speak better to secularists today.

Here are some excerpts, with a few of my own comments. Ali compares the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery to the recent outbreaks of "racially charged incidents" which "have prompted a near-universal reflexive response of black anger and white guilt"--but Ali reminds us change has come. I agree with her "that the president was right to push back against the idea that nothing has changed since 1965." My current and past two supervisors are black, one from Africa, two from here, two men, one woman, one an immigrant, the others a descendant of freed slaves. One is married to a white man. None of this might have happened half a century or more ago, certainly. That is progress.

Ali shows how discrimination increases across the world where Islamic jurisprudence expands. "And the discriminated group I have in mind is women, though I could also reference Jews, Christians and gays." She lists the long litany of laws limiting women's freedom: and emphasizes: "Segregation, in short, is central to sharia -- a fact that no amount of contortion by self-styled Muslim feminists can get around." She tells of the growing movements cracking down on female liberty.

"There seems to me only one possible way to react to this trend toward sharia and that is to resist it. Perhaps that is more obvious to me than to most; having lived under sharia when I was a young girl in Saudi Arabia I know just what it means to be a second-class citizen. Yet many Western liberals seem to struggle with the obvious point that if they were against segregation and discrimination in the 1960s they should be against gender segregation and discrimination now." This to me is eminently sensible. I cannot fathom, when I read certain liberal journalists or exchange views with radical friends of mine, why a stress on diversity and tolerance affords Islam such rampant intolerance.

Ali introduces Heretic. "My most recent book is an argument for a Muslim Reformation. It proposes a fundamental five-point modification of Islamic doctrine designed to remove the various incitements embedded in the Koran to engage in intolerance, oppression and violence. The book is addressed mainly to Muslims who are reluctant to follow me all the way to apostasy, but who are prepared to acknowledge, if only to themselves, that there are fundamental incompatibilities between their faith and modernity. But I am also addressing Western liberals -- and not only those at Brandeis University who last year saw fit to rescind their institution's offer to me of an honorary degree.
In their letter denouncing me, 87 Brandeis faculty members accused me of suggesting that:
violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam or the Two-Thirds World, thereby obscuring such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus [and]... the hard work on the ground by committed Muslim feminist and other progressive Muslim activists and scholars, who find support for gender and other equality within the Muslim tradition and are effective at achieving it.
Seriously? "Support for gender and other equality within the Muslim tradition"? As for Muslim feminists "achieving" greater equality, the evidence, as we have seen, is that women's rights in the Muslim world are being rapidly eroded by the spread of Islamism.

I echo her disbelief. All the more as the liberal Jewish university, Brandeis, would have been expected, to me at least in my naivete, as a supporter of those from marginalized and persecuted groups who challenge the unjust laws and religious demands limiting a freer exploration of human potential rather than fealty to a supposedly divinely dictated set of primitive rules and illogical regulations. Yes, I know the Torah and that may contain its own irrational codes, but in the liberal outlook informing Brandeis, I'd expect a more generous audience for Ali's congenial (to me) address.

Ali continues: "We who have known what it is to live without freedom watch with incredulity as you who call yourselves liberals -- who claim to believe so fervently in women's and minority rights -- make common cause with the forces in the world that manifestly pose the greatest threats to just those things." Now that she is an American, she admits to her new colleagues that "we Western intellectuals cannot lead a Muslim Reformation. But we do have an important role to play. We must no longer accept limitations on criticism of Islam. We must reject the notions that only Muslims can speak about Islam, and that any critical examination of Islam is inherently 'racist.' Instead of contorting Western intellectual traditions so as not to offend our Muslim fellow citizens, we need to defend the Muslim dissidents who are risking their lives to promote the human rights we take for granted: equality for women, tolerance of all religions and orientations, our hard-won freedoms of speech and thought." She goes on to sum up her thesis, and it's one I share: "Multiculturalism should not mean that we tolerate another culture's intolerance. If we do in fact support diversity, women's rights, and gay rights, then we cannot in good conscience give Islam a free pass on that spurious ground."

She compares Jim Crow to sharia, and concludes: "I want to echo Martin Luther King. Yes, we Muslim reformers are on the move and no bogus charge of Islamophobia can stop us. The burning of our offices will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. The beating and killing of our leaders and young girls will not divert us. The wanton release of known terrorists would not discourage us. We are on the move now. Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom.

My question to the liberals of 2015 is this. You are very sure about what side you were on in 1965.

But whose side are you on today?Will you march with us for Muslim women's civil and political rights? Or will you wait half a century -- for the movie of our march?"

Ali gets a lot of flak. Her marriage to Niall Ferguson, perhaps, has exacerbated the opposition she gets among many in the left-leaning media. He too challenges some conventions of the anti-North Atlantic/American, pro-"South" voices who deny Western hegemony and champion the anti-imperialist voices of those who join that message to one of anti-secularism, and pro-tradition.

In Arguably, another outspoken journalist, Christopher Hitchens, anticipated this. Defenses of free speech wither as PC-speak inhibits bold journalism. He predicted: "Within a short while,--this is a warning--the shady term 'Islamophobia' is going to be smuggled through our customs. Anyone accused of it will be politely but firmly instructed to shut up, and to forfeit the constitutional right to criticize religion. By definition, anyone accused in this way will also be implicitly guilty." He finds presciently in an attempt to alert the world to the danger of letting fanatics shut down the Danish press for cartoons judged offensive in 2007, that "American Muslim leaders" are canny. He cites the NY Times in explaining how PR spin is spun. ''They have 'managed to build effective organizations and achieve greater integration, acceptance and economic success than their brethren in Europe have. They portray the cartoons as part of a wave of global Islamophobia and have encouraged Muslim groups in Europe to use the same term.' In other words, they are leveraging worldwide Islamic violence to drop a discreet message into the American discourse." (706) Certainly proven by now.

While the sympathies extended more and more to proponents of the Muslim (and other faiths) suppression of those who attack its limitations disappoint me, they seem an inevitable extension of the 20th century's encouragement of the Other, those who strike back against the Empire, those on the sidelines who push forward to play on the field. Orthodox Jewish men increasingly are refusing to sit alongside women on planes in America, as their numbers grow and their confidence grows. Few are able to stand up to these manifestations of cruelty, fearing their opposition will brand them as bigots, or as in Islam however illogically, "racists." My childhood Catholic faith appears to play the role predicted by my teachers in junior high: they saw in the ebb of European devotion a harbinger, less than a decade after Vatican II had concluded, of the decreasing rather than dominant role the Church would play in my own coming of age and the coming century. On the other hand, the hijab becomes ever more common in my country, whereas the nun's habit and priest's collar seem nearly invisible.
Cartoon credit.

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