In Defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Afshin Ellian

by Ibn Warraq (February 2011)

Ian Buruma and Murder in Amsterdam.

[1] of the great Indian cricketer Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Jadeja Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar [died 1933]. Like Buruma I was a cricket fanatic, and like Ranji, a Gujurati, born not far from the Indian Prince's Princedom. Second, much to my delight Buruma skewered the pretensions of Arundhati Roy, the Indian novelist who was suddenly given, after the success of her first novel, far too much space in the Western press to spew out anti-Western hate. Third, Buruma was not impressed by Edward Said's autobiography; he found it self-pitying. I quoted Buruma's review in my own critique of Said, Defending the West.



[4], in defense of the Radical Enlightenment, pointed out, Buruma does not dwell on the personal histories of the Dutch intellectual, Frits Bolkestein, and the Amsterdam professor Paul Scheffer since his shallow psychologizing does not work in their case. He dismisses Dutch philosopher Herman Philipse, whom he remembers from his kindergarten days as “pompous,” as someone both pretentious and privileged, born and educated into a civilization that taught him the Enlightenment values of universality and individualism, and hence, by Buruma's bizarre logic, Philipse is not to be taken seriously. Buruma puzzles over why a rich businessman should want to get rid of Moroccans since he was unlikely ever to come into contact with any of them. Does it never occur to Buruma that Moroccans might represent certain political and cultural values that the businessman might find unacceptable? What would personal contact have to do with it?

Yours Sincerely,

Ellian, L.L.M.

Former Dutch Minister of Defence

[5]Ahmed Olgun, who co- wrote a book with Jutta Chorus on the murder of Theo van Gogh accused Buruma of plagiarizing their book.

[6] anymore than having a common surname makes Groucho and Karl the same. Only someone in the grip of post-modern relativism could possibly come to such as a conclusion as Buruma's. Jonathan Israel has emphasized over and over again in his truly learned and magisterial studies of the Enlightenment the importance of distinguishing the two broad opposing tendencies running through the Western Enlightenment – there was an unbridgeable chasm between the Radical democratic Enlightenment and the Moderate antidemocratic Enlightenment. “Radical Enlightenment is a set of basic principles that can be summed up concisely as: democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state.” Radical Philosophers such as Diderot, d'Holbach and Helvétius believed in and argued for truly universal moral values which enabled them to make cross-cultural criticisms without contradiction, whereas the Moderate Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire, and those influenced by them had constant recourse to relativism, which made such cross-cultural judgments impossible. Here for instance is Sir William Jones, a Moderate mainstream Enlightenment figure, arguing that the “aim of the British judiciary in Calcutta in 1780s was to ensure that the 'British subjects resident in India be protected, yet governed by British laws; and that the natives of these important provinces be indulged in their own prejudices, civil and religious, and suffered to enjoy their own customs unmolested.'”[7] As Israel adds, “This meant preserving the caste system, among much else. That such hierarchies of customs, morality, and law were being extended in the world were anathema to the radical thinkers.”


Must all traditions, however barbaric, be respected? Are Muslims doomed to follow the traditions of the ancestors for ever simply because they are traditions?

notions of citizenship and loyalty to the state. There may well be moderate Muslims [Islam 3], but Islam [Islam 1 and 2] itself is not moderate. The so-called Islamists or Islamic fundamentalists are acting canonically, that is, following Islam 1 and 2 to the letter. So yes, Islam is a threat to democracy but no, not all Muslims are threats.


[1]     Ian Buruma. Playing the Game. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1st US edition, August 1991.

[2]                  Buruma's literary style has been well-described by Berman. I append my own observations here. Wanting it both ways is a common disease in Dutch intellectual discourse, Buruma tells us. But that is precisely what he exhibits throughout the book. Negative statements about Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Afshin Ellian are qualified by such clauses as “put SOME people off” [my emphasis]; the implication being: “Oh, you see it is not ME, who is claiming that, SOME people ….”.

[3]     Paul Cliteur and Geoff Gordon, “The Enlightenment in contemporary cultural debate”, in Bart C. Labuschagne and Reinhard W. Sonnesschmidt, eds., Religion, Politics and Law, E.J.Brill, Ledien/ Boston 2009, pp.311-331, p.320.

[4]     Paul Cliteur and Geoff Gordon, “The Enlightenment in contemporary cultural debate”, in Bart C. Labuschagne and Reinhard W. Sonnesschmidt, eds., Religion, Politics and Law, E.J.Brill, Leiden/ Boston 2009, pp.311-331, p.320.

[5]              APPENDIX 1:

[6]     Cliteur and Gordon, op.cit., p.327.

[7]     Jonathan Israel. A Revolution of the Mind. Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp.46.

[8]     Buruma p.246.

[9]     Personal communication: Ms Esman gave me persmission to quote her.

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