My other problem with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) recent brazen and aggressive Islamic apologetics, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is again in the news, this time as an alleged “anti-Muslim extremist”. This is an interesting formulation, since “extremists” is what everyone calls those people who go around committing Islam-inspired mass murder, such as Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaida, Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban, etc. Their extremism, as it happens, kills many more Muslims than non-Muslims. If the description “anti-Muslim extremist” is to be accurately applied to anyone, it is to these terrorist outfits. So how Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, as far as I know, has never killed a single Muslim, or anyone else for that matter, can come to upstage an entire slew of the world’s worst realisations of Qur’anic doctrine is staggering. The word “Poverty” in “Southern Poverty Law Center” has just taken on the same meaning as in The Poverty of Philosophy, Karl Marx’s critique of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty.

But I’d like to pick up where I left off. In an earlier post I said that I have some difficulty with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s formulation of three groups of Muslims. While there are many different ways in which one might subdivide the category “Muslims” and there are certainly very great differences to be observed across the world’s Muslim communities, I believe that Hirsi Ali’s grouping is not supportable, or, at most, supportable only in the broadest terms. Her formulation appears in at least one place. Here it is quoted from Islam Is a Religion of Violence that appeared in Foreign Policy magazine just over a year ago, in which she says,

I believe that we can distinguish three different groups of Muslims in the world today based on how they envision and practice their faith.

The first group is the most problematic — the fundamentalists who envision a regime based on sharia, Islamic religious law. They argue for an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version and take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else. I call them “Medina Muslims,” in that they see the forcible imposition of sharia as their religious duty, following the example of the Prophet Mohammed when he was based in Medina. They exploit their fellow Muslims’ respect for sharia law as a divine code that takes precedence over civil laws. It is only after they have laid this foundation that they are able to persuade their recruits to engage in jihad.

The second group — and the clear majority throughout the Muslim world — consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence or even intolerance towards non-Muslims. I call this group “mecca Muslims.” The fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.

More recently, and corresponding with the rise of Islamic terrorism, a third group is emerging within Islam — Muslim reformers or, as I call them, “modifying Muslims” — who promote the separation of religion from politics and other reforms. Although some are apostates, the majority of dissidents are believers, among them clerics who have come to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.

In broad terms, Hirsi Ali is correct: there are Muslims who violently impose Shari’a; there are Muslims who do not observe much of what their religious texts require of them and more or less coexist peacefully with non-Muslims; and there are Muslims who perceive the need to change Islam into something other than what it has been since its inception.

Below this level the formulation breaks down several times. Let us consider each group’s raison d’être. The first group, “the fundamentalists who envision a regime based on sharia, Islamic religious law,” do not argue for anything. The do not “take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.” And it is not that they “see the forcible imposition of sharia as their religious duty.” This is not a matter merely of their perception and their making a case. Hirsi Ali herself, in the same article, very successfully shows that this is a matter inherent to the sacred texts of Islam. Even if these fundamentalists did not exist — and this is the point of my blog — the wellspring of the violent imposition of Shari’a on the entire world can find outlet in anyone who has been inculcated into the teachings of the Qur’an. The desire to violently impose Shari’a on the world can lie dormant for centuries and fail to trigger in millions of Muslims, but it is always there and can always flare up, as it has been doing repeatedly right from the earliest days of Islam. And, of course, if it is a forcible imposition, as Hirsi Ali says, then it obviously isn’t argued for, unless “argued for,” means something like the glowingly generous Qur’anic mandate towards apostates: first try to persuade them to return to Islam, and if they fail to be persuaded, only then kill them. I’m sure this is not what she means.

But it is Hirsi Ali’s second group, “Muslims who are loyal to the core creed …but are not inclined to practice violence or even intolerance towards non-Muslims,” that I have the biggest problems with. Of course, there is the contradiction inherent to this formulation itself: the core creed is violent and intolerant towards non-Muslims. Again, this she shows successfully in the very piece I’m quoting from. It is not possible to be non-violent and tolerant towards non-Muslims and simultaneously loyal to the core creed. It is either one or the other. Thankfully, Hirsi Ali is right in that this second group, “are not inclined to practice violence or even intolerance towards non-Muslims,” but she is wrong in saying that they are, “loyal to the core creed.” If they were loyal to the core creed, then they would be part of the first group.

My biggest problem, though, is with the classification of these first two groups as either “Mecca Muslims” or “Medina Muslims”. It may be useful to differentiate between Muslims in this way for the purposes of more insightful understanding, but this bears no relation at all to, “how they envision and practice their faith.” No Muslim picks their way through the Qur’an and the Hadith to consider and select/reject those bits that correspond to Muhammad having been in one or the other location when the particular commandment was “revealed,” or the particular saying or practice was first recorded. I would argue that while the first group is simply loyal to the core creed, the second group envision and practice their faith according to their own humanity and sense of decency, learned from their upbringing and social circumstances, independently of the holy texts and early Islamic history. They prefer not to know, or not to be reminded, of those parts of the holy texts and Muhammad’s behaviour that induce their fellow Muslims to behave in ways repellent to them. The only way they can be Muslim is by being ignorant (wilfully or otherwise) of what it means to be a Muslim, while continuing to identify as Muslim. If they were cognisant of the distinction between a “Mecca Muhammad” and a “Medina Muhammad,” then one would have to say that they practice as much of Islam as they are able to stomach.

This distinction between Mecca Muslims and Medina Muslims makes Hirsi Ali’s third group, “Muslim reformers” or “modifying Muslims,” i.e., those “who promote the separation of religion from politics and other reforms,” particularly shaky. If they are neither Mecca Muslims not Medina Muslims, i.e., they are not premised on any of the saying and doings of Muhammad, or, indeed, on any of the “revelations” he received, then on what grounds are the “Muslim”? Certainly, there are many who would wish Islam to be something other than it is. Every schism, and there have been many, attests to this. It is certainly not a recent phenomenon in response to terrorism. It doesn’t take terrorism to see what’s wrong with Islam.

A more useful differentiator, if I were to run with this thought, would be between those who wish to change Islamic practise into what it has never been, i.e., reformers, and those who seek to restore it to what it once was, i.e., revivalists. The reformers may then, in turn, be differentiated between two subgroups: those ignore the Qur’an and the Hadith who start from the premise of ethics and humanity, and retain those Islamic practices that meet their civilised standards; and those who find it necessary to search for their own civilised standards within the core texts of Islam. This latter subgroup is the creative interpreters, the obfuscators and the downright liars (not to be confused with those who lie to non-Muslims in order to advance jihad, protect terrorists and impose Shari’a – another admirable requirement of their faith).

It isn’t clear to me why Ayaan Hirsi Ali felt the need to invent “Mecca Muslims”, “Medina Muslims”, and “Muslim Reformers/Modifier Muslims.” She has enough honesty and intellectual acumen to get to the bottom of the problem of Islam without resorting to such contrivances. Indeed, it is a job she has already accomplished and accomplished well. The thrust of Hirsi Ali’s formulation, and its Achilles’ heel in my view, is a presumed voluntarism. I would suggest that she has missed the most important distinction of all: Muslims who are subject to secular law verses Muslims who are subject to Shari’a (to whatever degree). Had she started from this premise, she would not have missed the single most important group of Muslims in the world today: those Muslims in the Muslim world who have looked at their religion and come to the same conclusions about it as she has. Such people tend not to be interested in reforming Islam, for they recognise it to be irreformable. If they are believers, then they either go off and join or form another sect, or they convert to another religion, but by the time they’ve seen through Islam, they’ve usually seen through all religion. I am convinced that hope lies with the latter.

Hirsi Ali closes her formulation by referring to “clerics who have come to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.” Such clerics are not the only ones who have realised this. Occasionally, one also hears of the rare cleric for whom it comes as a shock that the interminable cycle of political violence is the conditio sine qua non of their faith. To the vast majority of their colleagues, the interminable cycle of political violence marks out their faith as superior to all others. The more mindlessly a madrassa child repeats a Qur’anic command, the more proud such clerics are of their achievement. Am I hinting at another problem I see with Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Lest someone gets the wrong impression, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is someone I admire.


Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) and the African block, yet again.

This probably arrives too late for the requested action, but knowledge is power.

In June this year, 628 organisations from 152 countries joined a statement asking the United Nations Human Rights Council to create a Special Procedure: an Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). The mandate was brought into existence by a vote of the 47-member Human Rights Council, and in September Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn from Thailand was appointed to fill the position.

In November, a group of States tabled a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly 3rd Committee in New York that threatens to undermine the creation of this mandate. This threat is to the integrity of the human rights framework and its impact goes far beyond the SOGI Independent Expert, setting a dangerous precedent for other parts of the human rights system to be undermined.

Eight Latin American States have filed an amendment to the resolution that will safeguard the mandate and protect the human rights system.

Therefore, once again we need to join our voices and call on the 193 member States of the United Nations to protect human rights for all with no distinctions and oppose the resolution being brought by the African Group and support the amendment being brought by the Latin American States. [Read more here]

The creeping dhimmitude


We’ve all seen signs similar to this at banks and other security-sensitive places. We also come across it in department stores and schools. It is, of course, a ban on the wearing of full-face crash helmets. There are no exceptions and no one suspects any ulterior motive on the part of the institution or facility that enforces such a ban. We consider it reasonable and even in the interests of those not wearing such a helmet. We understand that the whole point of banning the helmet is so that the wearer’s identity is not concealed. Doing so not only improves the safety of all, but improves the feeling of security of all. It helps us all enjoy our public spaces as we are entitled.

We would consider it very odd, indeed, if the wearer of such a helmet objects to having to remove it, and then, as a “reasonable accommodation” compromise, demands a special private room in which to remove the helmet and reveal his or her identity to security personnel of a stipulated gender. Afterwards they can then put the helmet back on and rejoin others not concealing their identities. We would be justified in feeling that our public space was being violated in that a sense of insecurity is being imposed on us by an individual allowed to escape the usual security measures that make us all feel secure in the public space. We do not need to know anything about the wearer or his or her background, religion or musical tastes. We do not need to know what they may or may not have concealed under their clothes or in their bags. The insecurity comes from their identity being concealed, and not only from the security cameras, but also from everybody else around. There is no other consideration involved here. Chances are that the wearer of the full-face motorcycle helmet is male and a courier. Regardless of how many people hate men or the presence in the land of rabid courierphobia, we still need to know who this person is, and we are entitled to feel safe in a public place knowing there is no one wearing a mask in our midst (not to be confused with “safe spaces”, please).

no-niqabSo why should a sign such as this cause objection? The insecurity comes from their identity being concealed, not only from the security cameras, but also from everybody else around. There is no other consideration involved here. Chances are that the wearer of a niqab, burqa or chador is female and Muslim. Regardless of how many people hate women or the presence in the land of rabid anti-Muslim xenophobia, security personnel still need to be able to identify this person, and we are still entitled to feel safe in a public place knowing no one in our midst is hiding their face.

It is an affront to our society that someone wearing such a garment should demand a private room in which they might reveal their identity to someone of a gender of their choice, namely, female. What do they imagine would happen to them that does not happen to the millions of other women who do not conceal their identities in public? Are they saying that non-Muslim men can be expected to behave inappropriately if they should see their faces? Is this their experience with men where boys have had no sex education, social mores hold females to be fair game, or there are no laws against sexual violation? “Reasonable accommodation” has to be made for such bigotry? Yes, I accuse such women of bigotry towards both our society in general and towards our male population. We’ve seen this kind of “reasonable accommodation” demanded by bigots who did not want to serve same-sex couples who wanted to marry. We rightfully called out their bigotry, and we rightfully refused to accommodate them.

But no, we must be “culturally sensitive” towards this peaceful niqab-wearing woman who is obviously not a terrorist. That is not the point. The point is that we are “culturally sensitive” towards a culture that holds itself supreme above all others. We are bowing to Muslim supremacism. That is called dhimmitude. Before they have even imposed Shari’a upon us all, we already feel ourselves subdued, as the Qur’an commands them to make us feel (9:29).

Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

When we spend of our money to provide such private rooms where a woman might reveal her identity, and spend of someone’s paid time to verify such identity, do Muslims who demand such “reasonable accommodation” pay to cover the cost? No, we are already paying the Jizyah. It’s as if the entire Western population has had some kind of madrassa toxin added to our water supply that slowly but surely turns free people into slaves, little reasonable concession by little reasonable concession.

Islam: a religion not yet put in its place

Just imagine for one second that Christian fundamentalists call for the murder of atheists in Europe on a regular basis, for the reason that Christianity is being insulted by their absence of faith… One would be back to the times of Chevalier de la Barre, who himself was so young a man when he was tortured and executed for exactly the same reasons of ex-Muslims today. Would this be tolerated by the Left and human rights organisations, if it were Christian fundamentalists doing that? I doubt it. Then why this special treatment, this tolerance which only covers up for an unconscious racism, in the wake of such violations of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression, including in the heart of Europe, – when it comes to Islam?

says Marieme Helie Lucas in UK: Blame the Victim. Read more here.

The enduring beauty of mediaeval codices: the Qur’an

A friend once pulled me up for my interest in Renaissance art, saying that she was put off by the religious imagery. She found it odd that such imagery didn’t seem to bother me. I talked about what sublimity meant to people in Europe at the time (admittedly, that would not have been the word they’d have used, as it had a different sense then). I talked about painters’ attempts at capturing that feeling, about composition and the discovery of perspective, about the technical feet of painting transparency, and about how I thought religion was also a vehicle for them with which to do a thoroughly enlightened thing: experiment (not all the subjects were religious, of course — one of my favourites remains Rafael Santi’s The School of Athens), a direct subversion of religion, a hidden dimension to what the eye beholds.

On a later occasion, another friend was delighted when I expressed a liking for his Prakash Kaushik CD, Rudram Chamakams and Suktams – Vedic Chants. I arrived at work the next morning to find the CD nicely wrapped up on my desk. We got very little work done that day, as we talked about our shared interest in Sanskrit, excitement about exploring the Mahabharata, and bafflement at the staggering numbers that attend the Kumbh Mela (at that point I was still planning on attending the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela, which another friend later convinced me was an insane idea).

Then there’s another of my cultural passions: mediaeval codices. What first attracted me to Rafael’s wonderfully anachronistic School of Athens, is that Plato and Aristotle are each depicted carrying one of their books. Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, are both shown as codices, rather than scrolls — Rafael’s comment, in my view, on the timelessness and universal validity of those works. In the same painting we find our friend, Abu al-Walid ibn Rushd (what the “cultural appropriation” lobby would have done to Rafael does not bear thinking about). Ibn Rushd was the last of the great Muslim philosophers, an expert on Aristotle, who left his commentaries on the latter to the world, helping to kick-start Thomas Aquinas. By the time of Ibn Rushd, the codex had largely supplanted the scroll. The Qur’an that Ibn Rushd tried so hard to reconcile with reason would have been in the form of a codex. Like most mediaeval codices, it would have been expensive, carefully and very likely elaborately crafted, taken a long time to make, and been written in with painstaking care. These books were as interesting for what they said as for how the words served as embellishments for the page, often supplemented with abstract motifs and illustrations of people, animals, demons, etc.

So, naturally, my interest peeked when I clicked on the New York Times website Art Review page the other day and found The Art of the Qur’an,’ a rare peek at Islam’s holy text. “A peek at the text;” what, exactly, does that mean? I had to ask myself, especially a “rare peek.” Just to be clear, it means the embellishment of the page, and not the meaning of the text, as the subtitle of the NYT article might suggest. This ambiguity is not the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery’s fault. The exhibition is actually called, The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. These are stunningly beautiful codices that I would recommend anyone who is able to, to get over to Washington DC to see for themselves, which I, regrettably, am unable to do. I have to contend myself with my rather inadequate computer screen. Still, I’m grateful that such beauty can move me despite my knowledge that there is another dimension to the beauty the eye beholds. I cannot unlearn that these are some of the most horrible texts in existence today. They are responsible for the fantastic orgy of killing that has periodically plagued the world for the last 1400 years, this time round actually being able to physically destroy that world. I think again of Rafael Santi’s depiction of the Timaeus and the Nicomachean Ethics in the form of codices representing progress and the future, and how, by the same values, if he had depicted the Qur’an, it would have had to be in a form the predates even the scroll. The Qur’an, given what it represents, couldn’t have made it into the School of Athens. Ibn Rushd would’ve known that, should the question have been put to him. But the holy book of Islam might have made it as scratchings on wall of the cave in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, embellished by the blood of chopped-off fingertips.

The murtadd is out of the bottle

This is just to share some more on the growing openness and confidence of atheists in Muslim communities and societies. In the Islamic conception, apostasy is an aberration committed by an individual. There is a procedure for dealing with it and a prescribed punishment. The individual either repents and returns to Islam, or persists in apostasy and is killed. Either way, that’s the end of the problem. What is more, others are deterred from doing likewise.

Here’s the thing: Allah seems not to have considered the possibility of mass apostasy. Of course, Muhammad was the last prophet so there’s not going to be any updated version of God’s Law. So what now? Well, man-made law, such as in Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc., are trying fill this gap in Allah’s knowledge by declaring atheism illegal. Clearly, the cutting off of heads just isn’t cutting it. A rising tide of “homegrown” atheism right there in the Islamic heartlands is what Sayed Qutb and the boys could never have dreamt of. And it’s here. I am convinced that this spread of atheism within Muslim societies is what ultimately will save the world from those who will impose Shari’a upon it. Jihadis will infiltrate the West and even score victories, but behind them their own Dar-al-Islam is being eroded by a force that they are not even conceptually prepared to deal with, let alone practically. This is one djinni that’s not going back into the bottle.

Here’s some encouraging writing about ex-Muslim atheists in India. I’d be grateful for links to material on atheists in other Muslim communities and countries.

The violence inherent to Islam and the losing battle to keep up the whitewash

Over the last year or so, more realism and honesty have become evident in the public discourse on terrorist mass murder committed by Muslims. This is in a wider context of ex-Muslims becoming increasingly public about their stance, of more non-Muslims reading the Qur’an and the Hadith for themselves and publicly challenging Muslim apologists directly on the substance of the texts, and of atheists and other secularists in the Muslim world increasingly prepared to boldly and openly declare themselves. When murtadd, the mark-out for death, has become a badge d’honneur flaunted by atheists, as the once-feared fatwa has become a joke, then it is a clear sign of tectonic plates shifting. It is a clear sign that the mechanisms of intimidation, and their handmaiden, obfuscation, are not as all-controlling as they once were. Islamic apologia stands increasingly discredited and even the “Islamophobia” slur is less bandied about these days. Voices are now being heard even inside Western policy-making circles that something is rotten in the faith of Islam. Once unthinkable, there are debates on live Arab television in which hudud, so-called sins against God, are openly expressed. These are welcome and long overdue developments — long overdue: the slaughter, just since 9/11, currently stands at 29,661 deadly terrorist attacks (yes, only the Muslim ones). At the current rate of about 250 attacks each month, it’ll top 30,000 deadly terrorist attacks by the end of 2016. And yet, despite this catalogue of spectacular carnage, those who will reduce the world to Islam are clearly much less able to control the narrative than might be concluded from such figures and the cowardly capitulation of Western apologists for Islam.

I’d like to go back to exactly a year ago today, when the contrast between intellectual honesty and intellectual bankruptcy could not have been more starkly captured than with Foreign Policy magazine’s question, “Can the wave of violence sweeping the Islamic world be traced back to the religion’s core teachings?” posed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and to Manal Omar, and their answers then published. I want to look at how these two critics, the realist Hirsi Ali and the apologist Omar, approached this question, and suggest that the “Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam,” claim is discredited not only because it is manifestly untrue, but because the people making that claim lack integrity. We are not talking about merely the other side of an argument here. An obviously dishonest claim is knowingly advanced by obviously dishonest means. One tragic outcome of this is that Muslim sensibilities came to trump human life.

Let us examine the two responses to the question. Hirsi Ali starts by simply restating the question in her own words:

Does this violent extremism stem from Islam’s sacred texts? Or is it the product of circumstance, which has twisted and contorted Islam’s foundations?

She then lays out her three prerequisites for answering this question:

(i) drawing the important distinction between Islam as a set of ideas and Muslims as adherents. (ii) The socioeconomic, political, and cultural circumstances of Muslims are varied across the globe. (iii) distinguish[ing] between three different groups of Muslims in the world today based on how they envision and practice their faith.

This is a clear, objective staking out of the ground and we are now ready for her argument. Omar, by contrast, dispenses with such preliminaries. He opens his piece by immediately disparaging the question itself:

There is a tempting logic that has gained prominence in the post-9/11 world that attributes violent extremism from Muslims to the core tenets of Islam.

The question, he says, is grounded in seductive, but fallacious logic and answering it in a particular way is succumbing to that fallacious logic; all this without actually stating the question, or showing its logic to be fallacious.

After differentiating between three groups of Muslims (the specifics of which, incidentally, I have some difficulty with), Hirsi Ali then proceeds to answer the question by directly examining both the Qur’an and the Hadith, “the religion’s core texts”, for the inspiration for terrorism. She also explains the tenacity of these core texts and their continued validity. Omar, by contrast, presents no core texts, but instead offers a one-sided selection of “Middle East experts”, “the most prominent Muslim academics” and “the world’s top Muslim leaders and scholars”, whom he mixes together in such a way as to escape answering the question: “Can the wave of violence sweeping the Islamic world be traced back to the religion’s core teachings?” These experts, prominent academics and top leaders and scholars (who would dare question such authority?) are selected for the help their words can lend to Omar in crafting his list of attributes that it will show Muslim terrorists to have in common something other than adherence to Islam’s core texts. Those terrorists, as it happens, do not see it that way, and neither do those who are honest about Islam and its sacred texts, as the terrorists also are. Omar makes no attempt, nor do his sources (at least in those passages he has selected), to dissociate Muslim terrorists from those core texts, indeed, that link is simply ignored, while the proponents of such a link are disparaged.

Of course, if it were possible to show from Islam’s core texts themselves that they do not inspire terrorism, then we would have seen that done a long time ago and repeated over and over. Nothing would be more valuable to Islamic apologists. Western moderate Muslims have come a cropper for trying to do exactly that. The Qur’an, unfortunately, does not yield. From Islam’s perspective, the terrorists will always be right, no matter what Muslims may say. Of course this offends moderate Muslims. The point here is that such offence is unavoidable. The deaths caused by Muslim terrorists are avoidable. What, exactly, are our priorities? When, exactly, has one person’s sensibilities become more important than another person’s life? Just two days ago, Muslim terrorists used two ambulances to kill 25 people and injure over 100. I hope no Muslim feelings were hurt.