Mark Steyn tries to make sense of the left’s defense of fundamentalism Islam against the criticism of a female Somali intellectual.
Ayaan Hirsi Aliâ€™s great cause is womenâ€™s liberation. Unfortunately for her, the women she wants to liberate are Muslim, so she gets minimal support and indeed a ton of hostility from Western feminists who have reconciled themselves, consciously or otherwise, to the two-tier sisterhood: when it comes to clitoridectomies, forced marriages, honour killings, etc., multiculturalism trumps feminism. Liberal men are, if anything, even more opposed. She long ago got used to the hectoring TV interviewer, from Avi Lewis on the CBC a while back to Tavis Smiley on PBS just the other day, insisting that say what you like about Islam but everyone knows that Christians are just as backward and violent, if not more so. The media left spends endless hours and most of its interminable awards ceremonies congratulating itself on its courage, on â€œspeaking truth to power,â€ the bravery of dissent and all the rest, but faced with a pro-gay secular black feminist who actually lives it they frost up in nothing flat.
The latest is Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Reviewing Ayaanâ€™s new book Nomad, he begins:
â€œShe has managed to outrage more peopleâ€”in some cases to the point that they want to assassinate herâ€”in more languages in more countries on more continents than almost any writer in the world today. Now Hirsi Ali is working on antagonizing even more people in yet another memoir.â€
Thatâ€™s his opening pitch: if there are those who wish to kill her, itâ€™s her fault because sheâ€™s a provocateuse whoâ€™s found a lucrative shtick in â€œworking on antagonizingâ€ people. The Times headlines Kristofâ€™s review â€œThe Gadfly,â€ as if sheâ€™s a less raddled and corpulent Gore Vidal. In fact, she wrote a screenplay for a film; Muslim belligerents threatened to kill her and her director; they made good on one half of that threat. This isnâ€™t shtick.
But Kristof decides to up the condescension. Of the authorâ€™s estrangement from her Somali relatives, he writes: â€œI couldnâ€™t help thinking that perhaps Hirsi Aliâ€™s family is dysfunctional simply because its members never learned to bite their tongues and just say to one another: â€˜I love you.â€™ â€
Awwwww. Group hug! Works every time.
But maybe not so much in Somalia. This isnâ€™t a family where they bite their tongues but where they puncture their clitorises. At the age of five, Ayaan was forced to undergo â€œFGMâ€ (female genital mutilation), or, in the new non-judgmental PC euphemism, â€œcutting.â€ When she had her first period, her mother beat her. When she was 22, her father arranged for her to marry a cousin in Canada. While in Germany awaiting the visa for her wedded bliss in Her Majestyâ€™s multicultural utopia, she decided to skip out, and fled to the Netherlands.
All she wanted was a chance to do what Nicholas Kristof takes for grantedâ€”to live her own life. What difference would saying â€œI love youâ€ in a Lifestyle Channel soft-focus blur accompanied by saccharine strings make? As they see it, the perpetrators of â€œhonour killingsâ€ love their daughters: thatâ€™s why they kill â€™em. Would Kristof wish to swap his options for the set menu served up to Muslim women? How would he like it if, just as he was getting ready to head to Oxford on his Rhodes Scholarship, his dad had announced that heâ€™d arranged for him to marry a cousin? Oh, and in Canada.
Which brings me to my big philosophical difference with Ms. Hirsi Ali: in 2006, she was one of a dozen intellectuals to publish a manifesto against radical Islam and in defence of â€œsecular values for all.â€ Often in her speeches, sheâ€™ll do a heartwarming pitch to all of usâ€”â€œblack, white, gay, straightâ€â€”to stand firm for secular humanism. My problem with this is that, in Europe and elsewhere, liberal secularism is not the solution to the problem but the vacuum in which a resurgent globalized Islam has incubated. …
In a way, the Western leftâ€™s hostility to Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes my point for me. In Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman wrote that suicide bombings â€œproduced a philosophical crisis, among everyone around the world who wanted to believe that a rational logic governs the world.â€ In other words, it has to be about â€œpovertyâ€ or â€œsocial justiceâ€ because the alternativeâ€”that they want to kill us merely because we are the otherâ€”undermines the hyper-rationalistâ€™s entire world view. Thus, every pro-gay, pro-feminist, pro-black Western liberalâ€™s determination to blame Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the fact that a large number of benighted thuggish halfwits want to kill her. Deploring what he regards as her simplistic view of Islam, Nicholas Kristof rhapsodizes about its many fine qualitiesâ€”â€œThere is also the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews.â€ …
As Paul Mirengoff of the Power Line blog observes, traditionally when useful idiots shill for illiberal ideologies it requires at least â€œthe illusion of progressivismâ€ to bring them on board. Islam canâ€™t provide that, but thatâ€™s no obstacle to getting the bien pensants to sign up. As much as anyone, secular leftists want meaning in their lives. But Communism went belly up; the postwar welfare state is bankrupt; environmentalism has taken a hit in recent months; and Christianity gives them the vapours. Nicholas Kristof will not be the first great thinker to talk himself into a view of Islam as this seasonâ€™s version of Richard Gere Buddhism.
At a superficial level, the Islamo-leftist alliance makes no sense: gay feminist secular hedonists making common cause with homophobic misogynist proscriptive theocrats. From Islamâ€™s point of view, itâ€™s an alliance of convenience. But I would bet that more than a few lefties will wind up embracing Islam to one degree or another before weâ€™re done.
Mark Steyn omits consideration of the irresistible leftwing impulse toward treason and the embrace of the cause of the Other, which becomes increasingly passionate and compelling in direct proportion to the evil and/or inferiority of the particular hostile Other. The leftist, in the case of Islam, manages to enjoy the piquant pleasure of combining the sensations of pleasure attendant upon fulfilling the role of society dowager defending the minority footpad from the police with taking another whack at Western Civilization.