Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A departure from the Norm

I hesitate to say this, he being a living legend and all that, but Norman Geras (of Normblog) is wrong about Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

May I say at the outset that, unlike some of her critics, I have no desire to see her dead. Actually, despite her much-reported beauty, and despite my Lord Chancellor-like susceptibility, I have no desire to see her at all. Nothing would please me more than that she stayed in the United States and never again cast her shadow on European soil.

I have two problems with AHA. One relates to her, one to her hordes of admirers. The latter, for whatever reason (and many of them are undoubtedly using her to promote their own agendas) are eager to repeat every falsehood she has ever uttered as gospel truth. Thus in Julie Szego's article AHA "fled to freedom in the Netherlands". Well, actually that's bollocks. AHA was an economic migrant, "fleeing" the relative poverty of peaceful middle-class Nairobi for the better prospects of the EU. I don't have a problem with that, but to gloss it as a flight to freedom is to devalue the journey of every genuine asylum-seeker. Nor was she fleeing a forced marriage, merely an arranged one: more Bollywood than Amnesty International.

One also has to question the motives of her supporters when they elevate Theo van Gogh (the film-maker with whom AHA collaborated and who was brutally murdered) into some kind of secular saint. This is someone who would have scorned Norman's nice distinction between criticism of Islam and vilification of Muslims: he regularly referred to Muslims as "goatfuckers". He was also a notorious anti-Semite who accused a Jewish critic of having sexual fantasies about Josef Mengele, and who referred to "having sex Treblinka-style, in the gas chamber". Yet because of the manner of his death, AHA's work as his scriptwriter for what can only be described as a piece of anti-Islamic pornography is invariably presented by her apologists as a championing of human rights, rather than as the tawdry example it is of money-driven collaboration with racist evil.

To return to AHA herself, let us first dispose of her hypocrisy. As one who had lied to gain entry to the Netherlands, she devoted much of her political career to preventing asylum-seekers fleeing real danger from entering in her wake. Her much-vaunted (by herself and her cronies) work for Muslim women in the Netherlands does not appear to be much valued by those she supposedly helped, who would rather have done without her self-promoting "assistance".

But most damning of all, in view of Norman's insistence on the important distinction between criticism of Islam and vilification of Muslims, is that AHA makes no such distinction, whatever Julie Szego may say. AHA explicitly denies that there is any difference between "extreme" and "moderate" Muslims. In other words, Islam is completely homogeneous. When she decries it as a "backward faith based on misogyny, violence and total submission" she allows no room for individual differences of approach among Muslims. All are by her definition wedded to the ideas she posits as "Islamic" (no matter that they are far from universally held by real Muslims).

Let me make the point clearer. We are not talking here about a polite discussion of points of Islamic theology. It is as though I were to describe Judaism as a primitive faith based on animal sacrifice and with a history of the use of human blood in its rituals. (Yes, I know it's not true: a consideration which doesn't stop AHA and her fans.) Imagine how convincing I would sound if I protested that I was only criticising Judaism and not beng anti-Semitic.

Norman's distinction is a good one if one allows that not every adherent of the religion being criticised agrees with every official tenet of the religion in question. Then it works. For example one might criticise the Christian doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. To deny the divinity of Jesus would be harder to prize apart from mere anti-Christian bigotry, especially if it were done in deliberately offensive terms (such as describing Christianity as a religion of sublimated cannibalism).

It is interesting that in Szego's article AHA is at pains to point out that she is critical of Islam, not Muslims, conveniently overlooking that the terms in which she chooses to "criticise" render the distinction irrelevant. She emphasises, for example, that female genital mutilation is un-Islamic, yet is content for her followers (including Szego) to treat it as an Islamic atrocity. Most damning of all, she feels the need to state that "the prophet Muhammed was a paedophile by contemporary standards". Quite what we are to make of this irrelevant comparison between 7th century Arabian sexual mores and those of 21st century Britain I'm not sure. However: (a) it is utterly without relevance to any discussion of Islam, being a purely ad hominem attack, one moreover on a 1400-year-dead Arabian (b) it is chillingly reminiscent of the British National Party's preferred description of Islam as "The Cult of the Dead Paedophile" - strange bedfellows indeed (c) by the same reckoning, as women generally married between the ages of 12 and 14 in Judea at the beginning of the Christian era, that would make Joseph - and, er, God - paedophiles "by contemporary standards".

Norman's distiction is indeed a valuable one, but to is not one to which Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself subscribes. Her rise to personal glory has been achieved at the expense of thousands of exploited and betrayed compatriots, while AHA was busy raking in the proceeds of her collaboration with a worthless racist. If she wishes to tell lies about Islam, about what Muslims (by her reckoning, all Muslims) believe, she is at liberty to do so. Forgive me if I don't join in the uncritical chorus of Islamophobic hatred. And forgive me too if I'm saddened that Norman Geras appears to do so.

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