Over at Chris Stedman’s blog, secular activist Sarah Jones has made a few fairly audacious claims about Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
Her detractors—myself included—have pointed out that she supports a Western conquest of Islam, believes that Muslims should be converted to Christianity, and has blamed multiculturalists for being “advocates of silence” that drove Anders Breivik to slaughter seventy-seven people, most of them children.
Let us examine these claims one by one, based on the links given in the blog post. Firstly, did Ayaan argue in favor of military conquest of Islam by the West?
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.
If Ayaan really wanted to call for a military conquest of Islamic nations, she could have up and said that, it is not as if she is known for being coy and evasive with her unpopular views. So what is with all this waffling about the spread of fanatical ideology and the fear of being crushed? It is almost as if she is not advocating for a Crusade to subjugate Islamic holy lands, but rather a defensive war against those who have already declared themselves, in words and deeds, to be enemies of the West. As it turns out, we already have a name for that, and while it may not be a popular war, it is certainly not best characterized as a war of conquest. Perhaps Hirsi Ali has written elsewhere about the need for a massive invasion and conquest of various Islamic nations, but I’m not remotely willing to take this least charitable interpretation of her unscripted answers to interview questions, and neither should you be so willing.
Next we have the question of whether Ayaan really said that Muslims should be converted to Christianity:
Q: One of your more startling arguments in Nomad is that Christian churches should proselytize in immigrant communities to try to convert Muslims.
A: Look at the amount of money Saudi Arabia spends on coming into Muslim communities in America and Europe, building schools and also taking leaders and training them in Mecca and Medina, then replanting them. It’s surprising that no other group of people is targeting the same communities. If you look at Western civilization, at the institutions [and movements] that were engaged in changing people’s hearts and minds—the Christian Church, humanists, feminists—they are doing next to nothing in these Muslim communities. When I was in Holland [recently], I heard about a Christian mission that had been proselytizing in Morocco. The government kicked them out and sent them back to Holland. I thought, “You don’t have to stop proselytizing—just go to the Muslim community in Amsterdam west and carry on there.” But of course there, they’re not only going to face the radical Muslims as opponents, they’re also going to face the multicultural opponents, saying they’re not supposed to be telling people to leave their religion.
Q: So how would they do it?
A: Next to every mosque, build a Christian centre, an enlightenment centre, a feminist centre. There are tons of websites, financed with Saudi money, promoting Wahabism. We need to set up our own websites—Christian, feminist, humanist—trying to target the same people, saying, we have an alternative moral framework to Islam. We have better ideas.
Ayaan is arguing that Christians and feminists and humanists should all strive to share their own ideas and worldviews with Muslims, whenever they are all living side by side in the free nations of the West. I see nothing remotely wrong with this. That religious doctrines should compete in a free marketplace of ideas is at the very heart of modern secularism. Moreover, it is no stretch to say that the feminist and humanist moral framework is vastly superior to that of Wahabism. I find it impossible to believe that one can reduce this particular exchange down to “Muslims should be converted to Christianity” while holding on to anything remotely resembling interpretative charity.
Finally, we have Sarah’s claim that Ayaan blamed multiculturalists for being “advocates of silence” that drove Anders Breivik to slaughter seventy-seven people, mostly children. Here is what Ayaan actually said:
…one man who killed 77 people in Norway, because he fears that Europe will be overrun by Islam, may have cited the work of those who speak and write against political Islam in Europe and America – myself among them – but he does not say in his 1500 page manifesto that it was these people who inspired him to kill. He says very clearly that it was the advocates of silence. Because all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence.
Perhaps I am being overly pedantic here, but I see a huge difference between the following two statements:
- Hirsi Ali claims that Anders Breivik blames multiculturalists for silencing him and thereby driving him to violence.
- Hirsi Ali personally blames multiculturalists for silencing Anders Breivik and thereby driving him to violence.
The latter statement conflates Breivik’s attitude and motivations with Hirsi Ali’s own, while the former does not. Once again, for the third time, Sarah Jones has taken the least charitable interpretation available to her in order to make her opponent look worse.
Further down in the same piece, Jones makes a point of calling Hirsi Ali’s views “potentially dangerous” and implying that they can lead to hate crimes here in the United States. Anything is possible, of course, but so long as we are invoking hypothetical slippery slopes, it strikes me as potentially dangerous to the core principles of secularism to start labeling spirited critiques of Abrahamic monotheism as potentially dangerous. I can easily foresee that sort of thinking going sideways fast for secular activists like Jones and Stedman and me. It is not as if far-right Christians do not have a bit of a persecution complex and a history of conflating disagreement with oppression.
None of this is to say that Hirsi Ali is above criticism, of course. I agree wholeheartedly with those critics who say that she is too willing to sacrifice basic civil liberties (e.g. symbol burning) in order to preserve the West against what she sees as the encroachment of politicized Islam. That said, there is absolutely no need to make her out to be a moral monster, with hateful views, bent upon conquest in order to make solid arguments against these excesses.