By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Free Press, $26, 353 pp.
The mainstream news and entertainment media's reaction — or, rather, non-reaction — to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s best-selling Infidel is Exhibit One in the case that multiculturalism trumps all other values held dear by the Left.
Could there be a more perfect Oprah guest than an African-born feminist who survives female genital mutilation, resists a forced marriage, becomes a lawmaker in a foreign land, is forced to flee to America because of a fatwa by terrorists, and rejects the domination of women by an oppressive religion-based system?
Does Oprah really believe her book club star Wally Lamb (She’s Come Undone) can spin a more compelling story of female oppression than Hirsi Ali’s triumphant real-life memoir?
And how about a Tonight Show appearance for this attractive, well-spoken woman whose wit, optimism and love of people is undamaged by her horrible experiences? Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the fight against female genital mutilation was gaining ground as Hollywood’s fashionable cause celebre. In fact, it had even obtained acronym status -- FGM -- thanks to Tonight host Jay Leno’s wife, Mavis, who made Afghanistan's ruling Taliban her special target.
The crusade was ideal for the Hollywood set, pitting right-thinking liberals against misogynistic religious extremists and making them icons of women’s rights worldwide. Best of all for them, there was nothing concrete the liberals could do about the matter but rant. The only way to stop the barbaric practice would be to invade the countries where FGM was practiced, which no one was likely to do. Thus, the stage was set for decades of feel-good UN and private sector conferences where American feminists could congratulate themselves on their righteousness.
Then George W. Bush spoiled the party by invading Afghanistan and actually doing something about women’s rights. Not since the Hitler-Stalin Nonaggression Pact have the Hollywood Left and its allies switched their wrath so quickly from one archenemy to another. The fear and loathing they once reserved for fundamentalist Islam has been replaced by abiding concern that the rights of all Muslims -- including suspected terrorists and guerrillas -- not be constrained. As Bush wages war with Islamofascism, perhaps the most illiberal force of the past millennium, the American Left wages war on him.
So far, Jay Leno's only reference to Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Jay Leno has been as an admittedly funny joke in his "Best Seller/Worst Seller" segment. (Best seller: A woman battles oppression in Infidel; worst seller: Castro’s proctologist tells all in In Fidel.) Meanwhile, Hirsi Ali rates no mention on the website of Mavis Leno’s pet project, the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Why? She’s too dangerous. While the Left is bashing Bush for being too aggressive in the fight against Islamofascism, Hirsi Ali makes that case that he is far too diplomatic about Islam’s intrinsically oppressive nature. That is anathema to liberal partisan goals and flies in the face of the multiculturalism that is the primary tenet of the Left’s political faith.
That the left-wing blogosphere is savage to Hirsi Ali because of her general support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a measure of its fanaticism. Even more surprising than Newsweek’s dimwits calling Hirsi Ali a “bombthrower” for opposing terrorists was the scorn by the usually reasonable liberal Ian Buruma for her "absolutism" in a New York Times review. Buruma dished out plenty of scorn for fellow libs who contended the U.S. and Soviet Union were moral equivalents during the Cold War. Now, he dutifully registers his multicultural platitudes in every discussion of Muslim extremism.
But Hisi Ali rises above — far above — her petty critics with her beautifully written and captivating memoir. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Infidel is how little of it is devoted to direct discussion of politics and philosophy in favor of recounting the details of her life — and what a life it's been!
Most of the world first heard of her when a deranged young man Muslim stabbed to death Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, Hirsi Ali’s collaborator on a short film called Submission that focused on the condition of women in the Muslim world. The killer left a threat to Hirsi Ali, then a member of the Dutch Parliament, pinned to Van Gogh’s chest with the murder weapon.
It was a bizarre and unlikely moment for a woman who describes herself as "born in Digfeer Hospital in Mogadishu in November 1969." But as Hirsi Ali muses, how many of the girls born in her maternity ward "are even alive today? And how many have a real voice?"
From the first line of the book -- "I am Ayaan, the daughter of Hirsi, the son of Magan," as Ayaan, then 5, sits on a grass mat with her grandmother reciting the names of her ancestors -- she learns her identity belongs to the men in her line, living and dead. "If you dishonor them," she is warned, "you will be forsaken. You will be nothing. You will lead a wretched life and die alone."
But as Hirsi Ali grows up, she observes that honoring the system her grandmother and mother venerate is quite likely have the same sad result. One by one, her terrified friends are married off to strangers, often to become the second or third wife to an older man. Her own mother is the second wife of Hirsi Ali's father, who abandons them in a war zone while he starts another family with wife No. 3.
Hirsi Ali's family is fairly modern and liberal by the standards of Mogadishu. Her father is a political activist and anything but a religious fanatic. But that doesn't her from the gruesome practice of female excision. Though her mother was against the practice, her traditional grandmother seized the 5-year-old child while her mother was out of town and — in the book’s most chilling and graphic passage — has her ritually circumcised.
As Hirsi Ali bluntly explains, "In Somalia, like many countries across Africa and the Middle East, little girls are made ‘pure’ by having their genitals cut out." While female circumcision may not be required by Islam, she adds, whenever she was abused for being female, the Quran was given as a justification.
She and her girlfriends found hope and inspiration in the unlikeliest of places -- Nancy Drew mysteries and Harlequin romances. To them, a world in which women could make any kind of determinative choice about their own lives and destinies was as magical as Narnia is for Western kids.
As Hirsi Ali and her family bounce from civil war in Somalia to an apartment in Mecca, from the relative calm in Nairobi to the refugee camps at the Somali border, one thing remains constant: women’s lives are at the whim of the men around them.
In her adolescence, Hirsi Ali tries to satisfy her culture by embracing the preaching of the Muslim Brotherhood, but she eventually drifts toward an independent mind. The last straw is when her father arranges a marriage to a dolt from their clan who has immigrated to Canada. En route, Ayaan bolts to the Netherlands by way of her layover in Germany and is granted political asylum, though she has to embellish her personal story to get it.
Hirsi Ali is so dazzled by the orderliness and civility of Holland after the grime, wars and brutishness of her past homes that she wonders if citizens can even be motivated to vote. But she eventually becomes politically active when she sees Islam's Sharia law being imported to her new homeland in its unassimilated Muslim communities.
While she was dazzled by the freedom of Europe and the efficiencies of modern life when she arrived, she became more sophisticated. Her crusade began as an effort to reform the Dutch multicultural attitude toward Muslim immigrants, and her naivete does not grow during her involvement in politics.
The attacks of 9/11 are the last straw for Hirsi Ali’s faith. She examines Osama bin Laden’s quotes from the Quran and finds they are accurate. She rejects not only Islam, however, but the notion that a God exists at all. She writes:
"I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and sexual emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values."
Hirsi Ali describes the condition of vast numbers of Muslim woman as the next thing to slavery. She advocates an idealistic aggressiveness that goes beyond what even Bush has engaged in:
"We in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life."
U.S taxpayers already support the Arabic TV network Al Hurra. How about instead of running speeches by Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and lending credence to Iran’s Holocaust denial panel, (http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010011) giving Hirsi Ali a platform to speak to women in the Muslim world about what the West is really about? Why not run features on the new freedoms given to Afghanistan’s women thanks to the United States?
The United States should also make clear that we will secure the blessings of liberty for Muslim women within our own borders. It should be clear to everyone that Sharia is not operational in the United States — unlike concessions being made in some European countries. Spousal abuse laws must be enforced as strictly in immigrant enclaves in Michigan and Minnesota as they are in Manhattan, and the victims will be protected even if it means granting political asylum.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Frederick Douglass of women living under the oppression of Sharia Law; and conservative organizations—especially on campus—should be moving heaven and earth to get her as a speaker.
She is as potentially valuable to the fight against Islamofascism as Alexander Solzhenitzen was to the struggle against Communism. The mainstream media may never embrace her, but it’s high time the Bush administration—and the rest of us—make up for this defect.
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