Ayaan Hirsi Ali and CAIR

I am torn, on the one side I am aware of the excesses of Islam and the need to combat its excesses. On the other side I am aware of the right wing talking points with regards to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and some of the things she has said. I disagree with her all or nothing stances because all or nothing does not work, but I disagree with the silencing tactics of CAIR. I think she should be allowed to speak and should be given her honorary degree.

Being an ex-Muslim is hard. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has arguably had it hard but does that excuse her willingness to deal with the right and in particular be the darling of the far right? That’s the major issue here.

I grew up in the Middle East. I may be British but I lived there as my parents worked there. I have been to Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia. I transit in the UAE regularly but that doesn’t really count. And I sort of disagree with her.

If she had said those things about Christianity, it would not be a problem. Christianity is in the unique position of being not just acceptable but necessary for politics in the USA. After all? Isn’t the actual argument against Obama that he is a “secret Muslim”. So while it is possible to mock Christianity, it is in the unique position of being the system. The “Man” if you will. It is the machine against which we rage.

But I also know that she came from Somalia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Those places are not representative of all of Islam but of parts of it that are radicalised. The majority of Muslims do not live in the Middle East or Africa but in Asia. Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh house the majority of the world’s Muslims.

I prefer the nuanced differences between each rather than tarring them with the same brush. I also know the problem is that the “Ideal Muslim” as portrayed by Saudi is a fundamentalist. That is what young Muslims are told to aspire to. What we are in, is a dark age of Islam. Where there is no Irony in naming your Fundamentalist Islamic Hospital after Ibn Sina because the fundamentalist utilises Ibn Sina’s historicity to prop up modern fundie Islam.

There is a problem among atheists and how we discuss Islam. On the one side as a total unwillingness to discuss Islam. On the other is the frankly lunatic fringe. Our choice shouldn’t be English Defence League or George Galloway. Our choice cannot be outright xenophobia and racism or rolling over and giving up. There is a middle path.

What our biggest issue is, is our lack of understanding about Islam. We simply have no idea about it. We buy into all sorts of weird ideas about it. We loathe to fight it because we simply have no idea about it and we fear being wrong or making racist and xenophobic statements about it.

I disagree with the notion that a moderate and secular exam cannot exist. We thought the same about Christianity but a moderate version does exist today. Islam can do the same thing.

You can agree with some things a person does and disagree with others. I do see eye to eye on a lot of issues run by contentious people. Richard Dawkins gaffes aside, is a good spokesman for atheism and secularism. Even the A+ people? I like their goals. I like Ali’s work, I like the things she fights for. I just don’t agree with her all or nothing stances.

I disagree that western culture is superior to eastern ways. In particular due to the usage of this argument to destroy Indian and Burmese culture and the use of English culture to destroy Scottish culture. We aren’t talking about the adoption of languages and TV but the sustained assault on art, music, literature and desolation of skills caused by western imperialism.

I think cultures should learn from each other and I think we can excise the worst of our cultures and replace and adopt better ways. The sari did not become a lesser thing after we adopted English Industrial Tools. That being said? English interior decoration took a massive hit after it adopted Chintz.

I think moderate and liberal Islam is a battered, mauled beast. The savage beast of fundamentalist Islam is dominant. And it’s unique nature lets it maintain that dominance. Fundamentalist Islam has created the notion that Islam is entitled to special discompensation and that the zenith of human achievement was tribal Islam circa Mohammed. It is a hypocritical luddite faith. This is a group of people who would kill Kabir and Rumi. They would tear down the Taj Mahal. The art of the Turks would be anathema.

These are the people who would burn Paradise because Mohammed did not have that.

And this ethos is bleeding into Islam as a whole. It permeates it all thanks to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which dictates what it means to be a Muslim. Even the most liberal Muslims are slowly exposed to these ideas and accept them as part of Islam among the more radical believers in the same way that organised homophobia and pro-life movements spread among Christians.

The trick is learning to reform and take culture and keep it separate from fundamentalist ideas. In my culture we pierce our ears, now? We just hold the gun to the ear and never actually puncture the ear. Things CAN change.

The issue with the fundamentalist is that they hold to the fundamentals. The worst and base ideas of the religion. The Christian equivalent would be the brutish proponents of Mosaic law. The Lord’s Resistance Army. Our western fundamentalists have been tempered and softened by centuries of comfortable living while the Islamic Fundie has not. Our fundies write cheques that they cannot cash, the Islamic ones live their fundamentalism. They are entrenched in strongholds that are hell holes and they thrive there. Places like Afghanistan and Sudan and Nigeria and Somalia outside the cities and among the villages, far away from the law.

They don’t balk at killing teachers or doctors. Not because they don’t care but because they don’t think they need them. Mohammed made do without. Why should these people who we hold to high regard be given any special treatment? It’s sort of the Dunning Kruger effect, the fundies cannot see the value of these things because these things don’t exist in their strongholds. They aren’t needed to be a fundamental. And there is a large trend of “I didn’t need it growing up, so neither do you” to Islamic Fundamentalists. Men such as Abu Hamza come from such places to teach young Muslims about what it means to be a “REAL” Muslim and at the time we didn’t really care. But one day, a REAL Muslim lad had to wage Jihad on us. Then we began to care.

Muslims are being marginalised from the dialogue just as people who look like them in the Western Dialogue. Just look at the terrorism dialogue or the “Asian” dialogue. There are horrific crimes committed by Muslims but I know that there are horrific crimes committed by any religion with dominance and a long leash to dominate the conversation. There are Hindu and Buddhist assaults on Muslims out there.

The lack of criticism of Islam has harmed Muslims. The applied theology rather than science of Islamic countries has created an echo chamber of self congratulatory back slapping that seems puzzling when sprung upon oneself. But I am educated in science so have a more open understanding than the directed ignorance of applied theology being used to prop up Islam. This holds back progress and denies Muslims an ethical understanding of how to use technology.

And the worst part of this dialogue? Ignoring and not criticising Islam harms Islam the most. We cannot protect the feelings of those who commit mistakes and errors. That doesn’t mean we are incapable of making those errors. To prevent that we must listen to those who were part of Islam and take heed of all their words. And not just one source but many. In protecting the feelings of Muslims by not exposing them to criticism, CAIR has become a shield for radical Islam despite protecting the interests of moderates and liberals. CAIR lets us continue the rather weird notion that fundamentalist Islam is a weak minority rather than a much larger minority with a major cultural influence. CAIR tries to push the rather puzzling notion that Fundamentalists are not in charge of the dialogue when they clearly are in large parts of the world and with a major influence on the foreign and local policies of powerful and indeed “developed” nations. It is why we see frankly idiotic defences of cultural practices that are actively harmful.

So we see even countries like Malaysia where a Muslim can only marry another Muslim and where conversions outside of Islam are unknown. We see religious and personal freedoms curtailed.

To explain in the simplest of analogies? CAIR are the mayor from Jaws, trying to ignore the shark that’s munching on the voters (The sexy, skimpily dressed and most promiscuous of his voters).

And that is why we need to let Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak and it is why we need to listen. Even if we do disagree with some of the things she says.


  1. says

    I disagree with you on a couple of issues… but I think mostly mildly. I agree with most of your first paragraph but on balance come out against Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    I also disagree that Christianity in the West is remotely civilized or moderated… America in particular has simply created high-tech weapons, fancy uniforms, and an international “code of conduct” that allows significantly more violence to occur against other countries than they have EVER inflicted upon the West.

    Further, NO ONE is required to give Ayaan Hirsi Ali a platform to speak. That doesn’t stop her from speaking, any more than I’m stopped from speaking if you ban me from commenting on your blog.

  2. says

    Excellent essay. I don’t agree with Ali on some of her political positions and views, but at the same time, criticism of Islam is very much needed, and she does make some good points. There are Muslims who’ve found this convenient combination argument of race/religion/culture to argue that they never have to listen to any criticism. It’s not dissimilar to the claims that Christians make, claiming to be persecuted if someone tries to address an actual problem within the religion.

    I think it would make sense, if they don’t want Ali to speak, to pick another speaker who will also discuss the problem of inequality and sexism within Islam. That way, the issue is still addressed, they are not backing down on emphasizing importance of discussing human rights violations and Islam. And it also provides a challenge to CAIR, to see if their criticism of Ali is actually based on her overly-generalized statements/political views about Muslims, or if they don’t want to hear any criticism of Islam from anyone ever.

  3. says

    I agree with this, but that’s why I may one day no longer be left, but open to considering either as a lesser of evils. But the right listens and respect Ali more than the left, to the shame of the left and to the right’s credit. Left does not equal good and right does not equal evil. It’s not black and white, both the left and right have good sides and bad sides, and usually I agree with the left. But not on issues within Islam of equal rights for gays/apostasy/free speech etc. when, ironically, the right turns left and vice versa, which is very strange (read Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam). The left too often rejects Hirsi Ali under absurd claims of Islamophobia (when CAIR fits the definition by kowtowing and creating fear by attempting to silence critics, which is not only cowardly, but fascist) . That Hirsi Ali does use absolutist wording hurts her cause, but it should not hurt it enough that the left rejects her. As long as the left rejects her, along with failing to protecting homosexuals under religious prosecution (except in Uganda, of course) or other causes of human rights, then some people will drift away from the left. The fault is on the left, not Hirsi Ali or the right.

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I’m a fan of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She isn’t perfect but she’s been through things and had direct experiences of the ideology and culture that her critics lack. She knows what she’s talking about – her critics, put simply, do NOT.

    This :


    Gives a condensed version of what Ayaan Hirsi Ali would have said given the chance. To her critics I’m going to ask one question (for now) what’s wrong with this? What is she saying here that is either erroneous or harmful and how?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>