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An exceptional woman's rejection of Islam
Charles Moore praises Ayaan Hirsi Ali's courage, intelligence and honesty, but points out, rightly, that she is exceptional in having escaped Islam. From The Telegraph:
In a way, this book is the opposite of Barack Obama's famous memoir Dreams from My Father...Her fame derives from the fact that she boldly and absolutely rejected the Muslim faith in which she grew up. She sought asylum in Holland and became, for a time, a politician there. She collaborated with Theo Van Gogh, who was later murdered by an Islamist fanatic, on a film called Submission, about Islam's oppression of women.
For her apostasy, a capital offence in the eyes of all the schools of Islamic law, she is threatened with death.
Just read that again: "apostasy, a capital offence in the eyes of all the schools of Islamic law". This is not something you will read in The Guardian or the BBC, but it is true.
She has to have personal protection at all times. Now she lives in the United States, and this book, which follows her earlier account of her life, Infidel, is, among other things, an examination of the virtues of her adopted country and the Western way of life which she has enthusiastically embraced. Obama's book, though not anti-American, was a journey away from his country. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's direction of travel is the other way.
Since we tend to take the virtues of the West for granted, it is moving to find them so enthusiastically identified by an outsider. One thing which enrages her about her own Somali Muslim culture is its utter dependence on clan. Clan loyalties in that culture, she says, are the only social reality, and so people feel under no obligation to be honest or kind to those outside the clan, or to respect the rule of law or political institutions.
In the West, however, the social order – far from being "broken", as we tend to see it – is strong. People go to great efforts, says the author, to help strangers, debate with one another without violence and ensure that public and commercial services do their job properly. "The infidel," she says, "insists on honesty and trust", whereas Muslim societies are riddled with suspicion and survive by "taqqiya – pretending to be something you are not".
We in the West tend to envy Africa for its greater sense of family, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali launches into a paean of praise for American marriage. She thinks that its emphasis on the love between man and woman who have chosen each other freely and the focus on the children they bear is much more healthy than the web of obligations to endless useless cousins in the world from which she has escaped.
She argues that in our freedom, and in our more responsible and restrained attitudes to sex, money and violence, we are superior to the Islamic world. In her view, the Muslim obsession with a woman's virginity is not a mark of modesty and decency, but of ownership and the abuse of power. It helps to feed a male identity which she tellingly describes, referring to her brother, as both "fragile and grandiose".
It is so clear to Ayaan Hirsi Ali that Western freedom is better than the alternatives that she is evangelical about it. A feminist, she is infuriated by those Western feminists who will not take on subjects such as female circumcision, honour killing and the sale of brides in Muslim societies (and among Muslims in our own societies) because they wish to blame Western colonialism for all ills. And although she is herself an atheist, she is convinced that Christianity is superior to Islam, because it has learnt how to exist in plural societies and because it centres on love rather than anger and fear. She recommends that the churches should come together to counter radical Muslim dawa (mission) with a great push of their own to bring Christianity to immigrants. She makes short work of our own dear Archbishop of Canterbury, and his idea that a little bit of Sharia might be quite nice really.
The author is such a brave woman, and her way of writing so clear, that I was surprised, as I read, to find myself feeling rather depressed. One reason, I think, is that I feel most reluctant to accept her view that Islam is simply frightful. She makes a most convincing case for its faults of intolerance, over-masculinity and violence, but she does not stop to imagine what the world would be like if the faith of a quarter of its population were to be undermined.
Charles Moore is wrong-headed here. Islam, as Hirsi Ali and many others have made clear, is "simply frightful". Undermining is good. And if a quarter of the world is Muslim - a figure very much open to dispute - then a quarter of the world either is "simiply frightful" or leads "simply frightful" lives. Undermining this would be simply spiffing.
The other reason a reader might feel sad reading this book is the appalling scale of the problem the author discusses. She, with her beauty, brains and courage, has truly made a new life for herself (though one which, as the book's title suggests, does not bring peace of mind). But, for every Ayaan Hirsi Ali, there are hundreds of thousands of Muslims trapped in the appalling politics of their own countries, or struggling to make new lives in a West which they are taught, even as they take its advantages, to detest. The author is exceptional, and that, perhaps, is the problem. One wants to believe her hopeful message, but the facts seem to be against her.
She is indeed exceptional, and hundreds and thousands of Muslims are indeed trapped, but by telling the truth about Islam Hirsi Ali is helping to free them. Few can match her brains or her beauty, but she can lead and others follow.
Going back a few years, it was in The Telegraph that Will Cummins wrote:
It is the black heart of Islam, not its black face, to which millions object.
How perverse that even when a refugee from Islam has a black face, her supporters are branded racist.