Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Don't let the chador hit you in the ass…


Timothy Garton Ash finds the middle ground between Islamists screeching about the coming of Shariah law in Eurabia and the anti-Ismlamists screeching about, well, the coming of Shariah law in Eurabia:

Now every man and woman in Europe must self-evidently be free to advance such atheist or agnostic views, without fear of persecution, intimidation, or censorship. I regard it as a profound shame for Holland and Europe that we Europeans could not keep among us someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose intention was to fight for a better Holland and a better Europe. But I do not believe that she is showing the way forward for most Muslims in Europe, at least not for many years to come. A policy based on the expectation that millions of Muslims will so suddenly abandon the faith of their fathers and mothers is simply not realistic. If the message they hear from us is that the necessary condition for being European is to abandon their religion, then they will choose not to be European. For secular Europeans to demand that Muslims adopt their faith—secular humanism—would be almost as intolerant as the Islamist jihadist demand that we should adopt theirs. But, the Enlightenment fundamentalist will protest, our faith is based on reason! Well, they reply, ours is based on truth!…

We have to decide what is essential in our European way of life and what is negotiable. For example, I regard it as both morally indefensible and politically foolish for the French state to insist that grown women may not wear the hijab in any official institution—a source of additional grievance to French Muslims, as I heard repeatedly from women in the housing projects near Saint-Denis. It seems to me as objectionable that the French Republic forbids adult women to wear the hijab as it is that the Islamic Republic of Iran compels them to wear the hijab, and on the same principle: in a free and modern society, grown men and women should be able to wear what they want. More practically, France surely has enough difficulties in its relations with its Muslim population without creating this additional one for itself.

On the other hand, freedom of expression is essential. It is now threatened by people like Mohammed Bouyeri, whose message to people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali is "if you say that, I will kill you." Indeed, Buruma tells us that Bouyeri explained to the court that divine law did not permit him "to live in this country or in any country where free speech is allowed." (In which case, why not go back to Morocco?) But free speech is also threatened by the appeasement policies of frightened European governments, which attempt to introduce censorship in the name of intercommunal harmony. A worrying example was the British government's original proposal for a law against incitement to religious hatred. This is a version of multiculturalism which goes, "You respect my taboo and I'll respect yours." But if you put together all the taboos of all the cultures in the world, you're not left with much you can speak freely about.

I loathe the hijab as a fashion statement, as a mark of faith, and as something I see more and more around my neighborhood. But the French law against it is a perfect demonstration of what's wrong with European policy on Islam—weak on all the things that matter and cruel on all the things that don't. For all the Pat Robertsons in the country, the passive American version of separation of church and state is still vastly preferable to the active European version.