The Atheist and the Apostate

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Over at the Los Angeles Times, Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, and Salman Rushdie chide the Dutch government for "abandoning Ayaan Hirsi Ali to fanatics." (The LAT version seems to have disappeared, though it can still be read here.) Breeze through the first half, which is mostly a recapitulation of Hirsi Ali's now well-known history, to get the meat: Rushdie and Harris's harsh words for Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende:

It is important to realize that Hirsi Ali may be the first refugee from Western Europe since the Holocaust. As such, she is a unique and indispensable witness to both the strength and weakness of the West: to the splendor of open society, and to the boundless energy of its antagonists. She knows the challenges we face in our struggle to contain the misogyny and religious fanaticism of the Muslim world, and she lives with the consequences of our failure each day. There is no one in a better position to remind us that tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.
[…]

The Dutch Parliament will be debating Hirsi Ali's case this week. As it stands, the government's decision to protect her only within the borders of the Netherlands is genuinely perverse. While the Dutch have been protecting Hirsi Ali in the United States, it is actually far more expensive for them to protect her in the Netherlands, as the risk to her is greatest there.

There is also the matter of broken promises: Hirsi Ali was persuaded to run for Parliament, and to become the world's most visible and imperiled spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women, on the understanding that she would be provided security for as long as she needed it. Gerrit Zalm, in his capacity as both the deputy prime minister and the minister of finance, promised her such security without qualification. Most shamefully, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister, has recommended that Hirsi Ali simply quit the Netherlands, while refusing to grant her even a week's protection outside the country during which she might raise funds to hire security of her own. Is this a craven attempt to placate Muslim fanatics? A warning to other Dutch dissidents not to stir up trouble by speaking too frankly about Islam? Or just pure thoughtlessness?

Be sure to check out Rogier van Bakel's interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali from the November issue of reason, and Shikha Dalmia's August/September 2005 interview with Salman Rushdie.

NEXT: Mr. Conservative 2.0

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  1. Well atleast this adds some clarity to the previous thread. So she basically had a verbal agreement, and now they are renaggin on it. So to all the naysayers from before does she deserve protection yet or what?

  2. She knows the challenges we face in our struggle to contain the misogyny and religious fanaticism of the Muslim world, and she lives with the consequences of our failure each day.

    Unless misogyny and religious fanaticism are spreading outside of the Muslim world, I’d say we’re containing it pretty well. Somehow I get the feeling that the author isn’t interested in containing these negative aspects of Islam, but forcibly changing them. Not to mention the fact that he is painting with an awfully broad brush in saying that the Muslim world is characterized by misogyny and fanaticism.

    There is no one in a better position to remind us that tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.

    This is the woman who said we have to fight a war on Islam, right? Not radical Islam, not militant Islam, just plain Islam. Not exactly a poster-child for tolerance herself, is she?

    Also, as in the Iraq war debate, usually the people whose arguments are so weak that they resort to calling their opponents cowards are cowards themselves.

  3. val,

    I’m not sure how Dutch politics is supposed to work, but a promise made by the PM which he has not the authority to keep is null and void.

    Just like Bush told the Iraqi PM that the US would stick around in Iraq until it became a democratic paradise doesn’t oblige the US to follow through on that … because he doesn’t have the authority to make such promises.

  4. Unless misogyny and religious fanaticism are spreading outside of the Muslim world, I’d say we’re containing it pretty well.

    Plenty of H&R commenters would have you believe they are rampant here in the US of A, due to those damn Xtian fanatics that either control or are on the verge of controlling (I’m not clear which) our previously secular democracy.

  5. The Dutch are known for their lack of spines when dealing with Islamic radicals. Read Bruce Bawer’s book, WHILE EUROPE SLEPT, and you’ll get a good idea on what I’m talking about. This is a country where two vocal critics of radical Islams were assassinated– Fortuyn and Van Gogh.

    That they treat Hirshi Ali like they do should surprise no one.

  6. My sole suggestion to Ali is for her to read Locke’s “Letter Concerning Toleration.”

  7. Unless misogyny and religious fanaticism are spreading outside of the Muslim world, I’d say we’re containing it pretty well.

    They’re not spreading outside the Muslim world, but the Muslim world itself is spreading, to Malmo, to Amsterdam, to Paris suburbs, etc.

  8. JMR,

    While I think that is true up to a point, there has been a push back at the same time in recent years against such. That tends to be the way of the world.

  9. As it stands, the government’s decision to protect her only within the borders of the Netherlands is genuinely perverse.

    I don’t see what’s so perverse about that.

    In the real world, there are practical limits. I kind of see her as something like a mafia informer, only refusing to go into a witness protection program, and continuing to inform publicly. Such a person in the US would be taking their lives into their own hands, even if the govt provided security. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask such a person to not leave the country because of a practical inability to provide protection abroad.

    The AEI thought her valuable enough to sponsor her immigration to the US, but not valuable enough to take over her security bill from the Dutch. Her needs are well beyond those of the average immigrant or even citizen. I can’t blame the Dutch for not extending her security worldwide, or the the US govt for not wanting to pick up the tab.

  10. I came across this critique of Ali. It is by Laila Lalami –an actual female Muslim PhD holder from University College, London. The article is The Missionary Position.

    Here is an excerpt:

    Along the same lines, Hirsi Ali seems to believe that Muslims are deficient in critical thought: “Very few Muslims are actually capable of looking at their faith critically. Critical minds like those of Afshin Ellian in the Netherlands and Salman Rushdie in England are exceptions.” The work of Khaled Abou El Fadl, Fatima Mernissi, Leila Ahmed, Reza Aslan, Adonis, Amina Wadud, Nawal Saadawi, Mohja Kahf, Asra Nomani and the thousands of other scholars working in both Muslim countries and the West easily contradicts the notion. In any case, why the comparison with Rushdie? Have fatwas become the yardstick by which we measure criticism? If so, this suggests that the people who offend Islamists are the only ones worth listening to, which is ridiculous. The most shocking statement, however, comes from the essay “The Need for Self-Reflection Within Islam,” in which Hirsi Ali writes: “After the events of 9/11, people who deny this characterization of the stagnant state of Islam were challenged by critical outsiders to name a single Muslim who had made a discovery in science or technology, or changed the world through artistic achievement. There is none.” That a person who has apparently never heard of the algebra of Al-Khawarizmi, the medical prowess of Ibn-Sina and Ibn-Rushd, or the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Umm Kulthum is considered an authority on Islam is proof, if ever one was needed, of the utter lack of intelligent discourse about the civilization and the cultures broadly defined by that word.

    An excellent article, but it seems, like the list of people Laila mentions in that excerpt are far less knowledgeable than Ali (who has a tragic personal personal experience that should be told the world, and who has to be protected). But what often happens in posts like this is that she’s given more intellectual merit than she deserves.

    Michael Moynihan:

    In the excerpt there is another good list of free-minded (true) scholars to may be consider posting their views on here at some point or the other. I only say this since we talked about once in the past. It would be nice to interview these people some time. And, you know what, they are right here in the US. They’d be happy to take your call, I am sure.

    Again I love reason, but when it comes to Islamic issues, Reason has been a little bit less than fair in its treatment. And objective and intelligent treatment of a subject is the goal here.

    Thanks.

  11. Oh, yes, I do know that my last post was slightly off topic (defense of Ali), but I thought it is somewhat relevant for those who wish to know alternative views of Ali. Unfortunately, I do not have a blog, and I could not post main topics on H&R 😉

  12. JMR,

    In that case, it would seem that the author is arguing for containing Islam, not misogyny. And that’s a whole different barrel of monkeys.

  13. Why should Holland have an obligation to protect her after she moves to a different country? Seems a bit much to ask.
    Also, it takes some balls to call yourself a classical liberal and then advocate the subjugation of an entire civilization.

  14. Niraj wrote: “This is a country where two vocal critics of radical Islams were assassinated– Fortuyn and Van Gogh.”

    Of course, since you’re a deceitful little shit, you omit the inconvenient fact that Fortuyn’s assassin was a left-wing environmentalist.

  15. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Seculofascist. But she deserves the protection of her government for her opinions.

  16. But she deserves the protection of her government for her opinions.

    Ditto! Actually, lets put it this way: Shouldn’t this be an issue that is up to the government and people of Holland? It is my understanding that some sort of contract/Dutch law has expired and that there were incomplete legal grounds on which to extend the protections –she lives outside the Netherlands as a private citizen, and is being hired by a prestigious American think tank.

    She ought to be privately protected. I’d be happy to donate (I, and other Muslims, have a stake in the lack of her security).

  17. Again I love reason, but when it comes to Islamic issues, Reason has been a little bit less than fair in its treatment. And objective and intelligent treatment of a subject is the goal here.

    Sorry, people who live by faith or incapable of reason, that’s why they’re people of faith.

    To put it simply, if you believe some magical man in the sky told a bunch of stuff to some Arab in the desert a thousand and some years ago and the texts tell you something about how you should live your life, you are a moron.

  18. Sorry, people who live by faith or incapable of reason, that’s why they’re people of faith.

    One can reason when studying a phenomenon, no matter how irrational it is. Your analysis is what has to be reasonable. If you want to understand a social, natural, religious, economic, political phenomena or issues, you can rationalize about these without having to believe of have faith in them! For example, the war in Iraq requires having an understanding of the role of religion in the Iraq dynamic. You do not have to be religious/superstitious to study the dynamic. You can still rationalize about it!

  19. GMan: I think you misunderstood me. When I say “I love reason,..” I meant I love reason magazine.

  20. Oh, well in that case Islam is an evil wicked relgiion that is responsible for untold suffering. It leads to repressive regimes and abuses of human rights. That seems like a reasonable analysis to me.

  21. Oh, well in that case Islam is an evil wicked relgiion that is responsible for untold suffering. It leads to repressive regimes and abuses of human rights. That seems like a reasonable analysis to me.

    Actually, a more reasonable, objective analysis would be that many individuals who are (or were) Muslims have done evil, wicked things. The same can be said for people who are (or were Christians). And while I think there are probably more Muslims who are fundamentalist than is a good thing, there’s no reason to believe that Muslims do more evil than Christians did when their religion was 1200 years old. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should be patient with anyone of any religious faith who does evil, I just don’t buy the baseless notion that Islam is inherently more evil than Christianity.

    The Koran, like the Bible, is peppered with philosophies, which, if followed to the letter, lead to acts of evil. Fortunately, most Muslims and most Jews and Christians don’t believe that every philosophy in their holy texts must be followed to the letter. It would be a truly horrible world if they did.

  22. I think I’d agree with Less’ statement more accurate than GMan’s. Plus, atheist (think Russia or China, just to name two) have done some pretty bad stuff as well. And yes, they have done these things in the name of (lack of) religion. However, many of my atheist friends are some of the most wonderful people I ever met.

  23. Plus, atheist (think Russia or China, just to name two) have done some pretty bad stuff as well. And yes, they have done these things in the name of (lack of) religion.

    One often hears this as a rebuttal to the (misguided, I think) argument that religion makes people do evil things, but I’m not so sure about it.

    The atrocities committed by the Soviet Union and China and Cambodia were done in the name of the state and crushing any threats to the power of the state, not because of any tenets of atheism.

    In contrast, suppression and atrocities committed by religious powers were/are usually justified with references to holy scripture. Since atheism has no rules other than “there is no god,” an atheist who does evil things can never argue that atheism required him do those things.

  24. I’ll take what looks like its going to be the minority position and defend Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    While I don’t necessarily agree with everything she says, I think whatever she gets wrong is greatly outweighed by what she gets right. The core of her message (as I understand it) is:

    – Free societies should hold reason-based policy, and protection of the rights and freedom of individuals, as higher priorities than “cultural sensitivity” or any other such idea in which the individual is subordinated to arbitrary traditional decrees of the community.

    – Defenders of freedom should not shy away criticizing idealogies that are hostile towards individual freedom, even when doing so offends the religious sensibilities of many people.

    As for the argument that she is intolerant towards muslims: Is she advocating rounding muslims up and interning them? Or is she just advocating criticism of a certain belief system? There is a big difference, and I’m pretty sure she is only in favor of the later.

    Also, regarding her protective detail; I agree with iih, in that I’d be happy to donate to a fund to provide her with one. Does anyone know if there is such a fundraising effort underway?

  25. BG:

    As for the argument that she is intolerant towards muslims: Is she advocating rounding muslims up and interning them? Or is she just advocating criticism of a certain belief system? There is a big difference, and I’m pretty sure she is only in favor of the later.

    I think the former. Here is a summary of the things that indicate that the former is her position. The trouble with Ali is also well documented in the very well-reasoned article that I cite above.

    Does anyone know if there is such a fundraising effort underway?

    I am not aware of any.

  26. Sorry. Forgot to close the anchor bracket 🙁

  27. I’m honestly undecided if she deserves more protection than a woman with a homicidal ex-husband stalking her. And while I’m very sympathetic towards the horror she experienced at the hands of fundamentalists, it doesn’t excuse her ridiculously bigoted attitude towards Muslims.

  28. iih

    I agree that she should choose her words more carefully. But given her comments elsewhere, I think that when she says things like “we are at war with islam” she is referring to a war of ideas. I doubt that she’s saying that we should regard people who refer to themselves as muslims as enemy combatants or anything like that.

    As for closing all muslim schools by legal decree, I disagree with her on that point. But, I do think that there is some legitimacy to the underlying concern about large portions of new generations being indoctrinated into an intolerant, dogmatic worldview. Perhaps there should be some policy in place to ensure that everyone is given adequate exposure to ideas of liberal tolerance and scientific rationalism, instead of being exposed only to a parochial religious ideology.

  29. BG, Les:

    Agreed on everything. Regarding,

    I think that when she says things like “we are at war with islam” she is referring to a war of ideas.

    BG, I think the choice of words like “war” are very inflamatory given the global tensions between Western societies and radical Islam. Still, she, in a recent reason article, did include the military option, against “Islam” –not “radical Islam”– but plain “Islam”. I am all for an ideological discourse. I am for people attempting to bring down an ideology or religion through free speech and open discourse, but I feel intimidated once words like “war” and “military defeat” of Islam are involved. People, including on talk radio, have proposed things ranging from surveillance of Muslims, to outright encampment. Not that I think they are serious, but this kind of rhetoric is very intimidating. And there can be no liberty in the presence of fear.

  30. Perhaps there should be some policy in place to ensure that everyone is given adequate exposure to ideas of liberal tolerance and scientific rationalism, instead of being exposed only to a parochial religious ideology.

    While I do believe that people ought to be exposed to ideas of liberal tolerance (and that they ought to practice it), I think the government would make a mess of any policy designed to counteract the barbaric philosophies of fundamentalists.

  31. That a person who has apparently never heard of the algebra of Al-Khawarizmi, the medical prowess of Ibn-Sina and Ibn-Rushd, or the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Umm Kulthum is considered an authority on Islam is proof, if ever one was needed, of the utter lack of intelligent discourse about the civilization and the cultures broadly defined by that word.

    Al-Khawarizmi – 820 A.D.
    Ibn-Sina – 920 A.D.
    Ibn-Rushd – 1126 A.D.

    This seems to have become a common defense when someone brings stagnation of science/achievement in contemporary Islam. The two musicians mentioned are admitedly contemporary, but music is too subjective to be considered an ‘achievement’.

    I dont think anyone in their right mind would deny the achievements mande in the Islamic world during its golden age, but to continuosly bring up events of nearly a thousand years ago, when considering a contemporary schism is telling of itself.

    Here is a link to an article if anyone is interested. Science and the Islamic world-The quest for rapprochement

  32. val:

    Thanks for the great comment. Here are examples of two contemporary Muslim scientists. Both were educated in Egypt before coming to the US for very successful careers. The list of Muslim thinkers and scientists is quite vivid, but not necessarily as prominent as these two:

    Ahmed Zewail (Nobel laureate)

    Farouq El Baz (Director of the Center of Remote Sensing at Boston University — the man who knows the geography of the moon more than any other human being, as has been once described. He was heavily involved with the Apollo Program)

    I got a chance to meet with these two men, and both do not shy away from their Muslim background.

    I think that the Islamic world needs is an enlightenment, and I think it is happening. Many Muslims have started to realize how dangerous what is happening in the name of their faith (which is really more like a culture as opposed to an ideology — pretty much like how Christianity shaped Western culture). But many are also alarmed by the rhetoric of the like of Ali. And it is not really about shunning Ali as much as it is a concern that her rhetoric could lead to more friction, possibly to the breaking, before moderates and reformers are able to achieve their ambitious goal of a Muslim Enlightenment Era.

  33. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was recruited by the American Enterprise Institute. It is rather obvious AEI recruited her for elaborating on her critical view on religious islamic practices.

    Both in the USA and the Netherlands a private person or a business is first obliged to mind his own security itself. Police forces and the legal system providing security are only be called for in the most threatening cases.

    The United States government has refused to pay for Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s security up to date.

    So when Ayaan Hirsi Ali was not getting US taxpayer paid protection and the long arm of the Dutch government was also not allowed to send armed Dutch security officials to operate in the USA. The discussion devolved into hiring private security guards and who has to pay for it.

    Anyone with a serious and independent view on this would agree that the American Enterprise Institute is making a free ride on Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s back, when they do want to employ her and provide her all the means to both let her study and spread her message, but refuse to pay for the four or five security guards she needs.

    Employing Ayaan Hirsi Ali comes with a cost far greater than her own ‘salary’ and in a free society, a private organisation like the AEI should know that you cannot expect to make a long run free ride on taxpayer money from a country that since WWI allways has had a conservative majority in its parliament.

    Conservatives tend to be not so generous towards blatant demonstrations of free riding private organisations.

  34. HR: Thanks for the objective, concise input.

  35. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/13/AR2007101301071.html

    This link has absolutely nothing to do, at all, with this story, but I am posting it anyway. Why? Because for weeks, this website posted the same old tired bullshit about how people that claimed Iraq was improving were liars peddling vile propaganda. However, given the nature of this site, I expect to see no blog entries at all making corrections. Therefore I will be posting this link in every blog entries comments section. Time to eat crow, assholes.

  36. Bob,

    There are a few regulars commenters at H&R that agree with you, myself included. You make a very good point about the abscence of your linked story as a blog post by Reason. Nick, what are you afraid of?

    You won’t make many friends here posting any good news about Iraq, though. Most minds here slammed shut with a clang about three weeks after the war began, a few were welded shut at birth.

  37. iih,

    It is interesting to note that both of your examples emmigrated to the States to pursue their science. The reason for this is probably partly economics, and partly a generalized lack of mental and physical infrastructure in their home countries.

    Here is an anecdote from my personal life. When I went to College in the 70s (University of Illinois), there were a fair number of students from the Middle East in attendance. They were mostly Saudi. They cheated on exams almost to a person, which led me to conclude that was part of their culture. I was a Chemistry/Computer Science major, and I had this group of ME students in most of my Math (Calculus, etc) classes. One of them, however, was absolutely brilliant. He provided the right answers for the rest.

  38. It is tempting to condemn all Muslims because of the beligerant terrorism conducted by a small but significant number of them. To do so is irrational, of course. On the other hand, Islam’s problems are its own creation.

    The problems in the middle east are a result of greed and grasping for power. All societies are menaced by these sins. One can not help noticing how pervasive are the problems in middle eastern, Islamic countries, though. Contrast Israel with its neighbors, for example. All that separates them are arbitrary borders and religion.

    As an example, in Iraq, one is confronted by the enormous power and mass appeal of Muqtadr Al Sadr, a Shiite cleric. Sadr’s power base is rooted in religion. Sadr is a thug and a murderer. Further, the chaos in Iraq would be impossible but for the implicit support of Islam.

    As long as Muslims prop up this sort of bad actor, they will be subject to the world’s scorn, and deservedly so.

  39. wayne:

    There is no doubt that the educational system has deteriorated over the last 20 years. In the 40s, 50s and 60s, Egyptian schools, for example, were doing quite well. Note by the way that Zewail got his MS from Alexandria University (still quite prominent to this day, though less so than it was in the 50s-60s). El Baz also graduated from Egypt. My point is that we should not dismiss the fact that these people, and many others, owe a lot of their academic upbringing in their Muslim homelands.

    Being one of those involved in the “brain drain” myself, I can assure you that the problem in this case is not religious at heart. It is socio-political. In fact, I attribute it to big super bureaucratic governments and socialist policies. ME’s problems and Eastern European, former communist problems have the same roots, both have nothing to do with religion.

    Again, there seems to be a lot of mixing of issues. People keep forgetting that both the secularists, “liberal/moderate” Muslims, and Islamists, many of them, are pretty much unhappy about the oppressiveness of the governments. Most secularists tend to keep quite because the governments themselves are secular (certainly so in the case of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Saddam-run Iraq). While it is easy to say that because these nations are “Islamic” they tend to be backward, the more accurate statement is that because these nations are secular dictatorships they tend to be backward (just like former soviet states).

  40. “Again, there seems to be a lot of mixing of issues. People keep forgetting that both the secularists, “liberal/moderate” Muslims, and Islamists, many of them, are pretty much unhappy about the oppressiveness of the governments. Most secularists tend to keep quite because the governments themselves are secular (certainly so in the case of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Saddam-run Iraq). While it is easy to say that because these nations are “Islamic” they tend to be backward, the more accurate statement is that because these nations are secular dictatorships they tend to be backward (just like former soviet states).”

    I think you are right. Still, though, there is a problem with Islam itself. Sadr, and the like, are the evil face of Islam. Murder and terrorism seem to be accepted by many Muslims. I realize that the embrace of barbarism is a perversion of Islam, but it is a widely embraced, at least by the lower classes.

    On the other hand, I have met many intelligent Iraqis who absolutely reject the bad side of Islam. Sadr’s support base is amongst the Shiites of Sadr city. They are impoverished and uneducated, so they have nothing to lose by the violence and fundamentalism, and there are LOTS of them. I think if the Iraqi middle class does not step up and take charge of Iraq, it (the country) is probably lost.

  41. Sadr, and the like, are the evil face of Islam. Murder and terrorism seem to be accepted by many Muslims. I realize that the embrace of barbarism is a perversion of Islam, but it is a widely embraced, at least by the lower classes.

    wayne, perfectly agree, sadly. But viewing Sadr or OBL as the face of Islam is very unfortunate and wrong. They do get all the media attention because of their cruel role in current affairs (terrorism and Iraq). That is why, it high time now that moderates and reformers start to step up to the plate. But realize that this is not easy. The Reformation took how many years, 200-300? Instantaneous overnight solutions are neither practical nor going to be fundamental.

    Note by the way that there is a fundamental difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam. The latter (at least in its present status) is more prone to authoritarianism due to the religious structure and supremacy of the Imams and Ayatollahs. Sunni Islam is far more decentralized and leaves a big possibility for the separation of “Mosque and State”, if one view government as a just an executive bureaucracy. Legislation, and the source of legislation, is a different more complicated story. But we all know that a lot of the morality comes from faith (Christianity in the West), so there is still some overlap between of Church and State when it comes to legislation. How much overlap should there be? For example, the definition of marriage, war on drugs, etc. But that seems to be a different story.

  42. iih,

    Let’s not forget the Wahabis amongst the Sunni.

  43. Let’s not forget the Wahabis amongst the Sunni.

    They were essentially puritans who got involved into Saudi politics when invited by Saud, who really did not care much about religion, other than making sure to have it under control as well as win over the Saudis by appealing to religious sensibilities. This was very unfortunate because (1) they ended up controlling the country, and (2) got a better mechanism to spread their ideology (in a very limited way) to other neighboring countries. But yes you are right.

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