She has a way with words, there’s no doubt about it. Her rhetorical style is soft spoken, graceful, and she speaks with the passion of wholehearted conviction. Unfortunately, Hirsi Ali just doesn’t seem to get it.
Hirsi Ali is undoubtedly a courageous and assertive woman. She fled her patriarchal, oppressive family, which made her a victim of female genital mutilation and intended to give her away to a man of their choosing. She built a successful career in politics in her country of refuge, Holland, until it was discovered she entered the country on fraudulent terms. I suppose lying to customs agents when you are fleeing oppression is not necessarily the worst of crimes, but it does bring in at least a sliver of doubt into her personal integrity.
Hirsi Ali has gained notoriety and success as a strong, outspoken critic of Islam. She claims the majority of its adherents are misogynist, violent, intolerant and set on imposing their way of life on others. There is no doubt there are fundamentalist, radical aspects of certain Islamic groups, and that they have acted violently at times. But as Tavis Smiley here notes, violence isn’t unique to Islam, and in the US you’re more likely to find examples of Christian terrorists than Muslim ones.
Hirsi Ali’s problem is she essentializes Islam-a religion that exists in the hearts of over a billion people in over a hundred countries within thousands of cultures-as if it were a homogeneous entity interpreted by its adherents in the same way she describes it as. In other words, just because there are Christians who act violently, or who believe in literal interpretations of the Bible (including those who believe it’s God’s will that women be subservient under men), does not mean Christianity is generally a fundamentalist religion and culture that a minority of vocal and noticeable segments make it appear to be.
She also seems to stumble on the substance of her arguments. In this interview, she categorically rejects being boxed in as a conservative (and, perhaps not realizing the irony, rejects the rigid stereotyping which she imposes on Islam and Muslims), but still proceeds to proffer neoconservative dogma.
For example, at 35:10 in the clip, she says that:
“Multiculturalism, the reason im against it, is it puts the collective at the center; that cannot possibly be left-wing. I thought the left started with the individual.”
The interviewer Jian Ghomeshi, corrects her by noting that is a wrong characterization of how the left view things and laughs at the absurdity (and probably the ignorance it would take to so boldly assert something so patently wrong). Hirsi Ali proceeds to shift her argument entirely to applying to liberals, instead of the left. The problem is, while a conservative may call a liberal left-wing, liberalism is it’s own political spectrum which has deep roots in individual freedoms and economic flexibility. It can be right-wing (EG neoliberal economics, or the right-wing Liberal Party she was a member of in Holland), or left wing (liberal feminists), depending on the context. That Hirsi Ali makes such a fundamentally error is revealing. She even tries, after realizing she contradicts herself, to shift the conversation away from “labels” entirely and to facts. Well, considering she drove the conversation into theoretical territory, one can be forgiven for the raised eyebrows at her shifty, nebulous level of analysis and explanation.
Ultimately, Hirsi Ali’s arguments boil down to this: Islam is a singular, indivisible entity, and its ideology is an evil and oppressive one. This is bigotry of the most base and basic kind. In a liberal democratic society, one she champions at every chance, it is unacceptable to shamelessly spew such hateful, ignorant and slanderous propaganda.
Hirsi Ali, unfortunately, doesn’t realize shes a neocon mascot. She is a black former Muslim, and like Obama, therefore, is a most compelling avatar of otherwise oppressive ideologies masked as human rights advocacy. And just like Obama’s ushered in a new era of the War on of Terror, Hirsi Ali is ushering in a new kind of bigotry for the 21st century, the stealth, bigotry-for-“human-rights” variety.