A strong defence of Western ideas is the answer to Islamic radicalism.
Images of Muslim rage are so commonplace nowadays they would be almost amusing if they weren’t so violent.
Recall the worldwide demonstrations back in September when a kooky anti-Muslim video aired on YouTube.
Or the depraved shooting of Malala Yousafzai in October, a brave teenage girl in the Swat Valley, Pakistan who was shot in the head for resisting the Taliban’s craven opposition to educating girls.
Less in evidence are signs that citizens of the West understand the challenges to our values posed by a resurgent and aggressive radical Islam spouting sharia law and medieval sexual politics.
People do sense something is wrong within Islam although there is less surety it has anything to do with them. Any intelligent adult is aware that Islam and the Muslim world are undergoing the dislocating effects of modernisation. We all know it’s not a replay of the Crusades, where two faiths squared off and rejoiced in their fanatic animosity.
One of us has moved on from that world and is enjoying a new secular faith, but that doesn’t mean the West should withdraw from the battle of ideas and influence.
For the secularisation of Islam to succeed, the West still needs to defend its own secular faith, its values of freedom of thought, speech, respect for the individual and gender equality.
The risks of not doing that, of intellectual complacency, are as commonplace and as dangerous as Muslim rage.
When author Michael Ignatieff, for instance, reviewed Salman Rushdie’s new memoir about his life under the Iranian fatwa, Mr Ignatieff seemed unsure about the place of Western values vis a vis Islam.
“Faith has no privilege, no exclusive right, and secular reason has none either,” he wrote in the Financial Times. A strange remark from the biographer of the renowned liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin and one which conveniently ignores 500 years of Western science and reason.
One voice of dissent against this supineness is writer and intellectual Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who believes that, barring military action, only a war of ideas will help move the Muslim world into a period of enlightenment and modernisation.
When Hirsi Ali questioned the conventional wisdom about Islam on the BBC’s Newshour last month, the BBC presenter was sceptical. He urged her to recognise Islam’s broad political spectrum.
That brought forth the following reply from Hirsi Ali:
“If something like that [Egyptian election results] happened anywhere in Europe or America, say to a party proposing Christian theocracy, we would be more than shocked and appalled,” she said. “So don’t make excuses about that, this is shocking, this is bizarre.”
Hirsi Ali went on to tell the BBC presenter the success of radical Islamist parties in recent elections, such as the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, was a sign that behind the veneer of democracy in the Middle East anti-democratic forces were gathering strength.
Now residing in New York, away but not entirely safe from the threats from Muslim radicals, Hirsi Ali has become a glamorous Enlightenment-type figure, someone who could have shared a coffee with the encyclopaedists in the 18th century as they dissected the evils of the House of Bourbon.
At a time when many fashionable intellectuals are still choking down Michel Foucault’s opaque ideas and celebrating subjectivity, she is upholding individuality, reason, free speech and property rights.
Unlike the fashionable and high-minded, who sometimes benefit from a system they often disdain, she takes the values of Voltaire and Locke seriously.
She has lived in societies–Somalia and Saudi Arabia– where you can be persecuted for those values; so she takes seriously the philosophical underpinnings of Western liberalism.
The radicals want to kill her but the Western world has come to rely on for her diagnosis of Muslim pathologies, seen and unseen, and her prognostications of the threat radical Islam poses to Western values.
At the heart of her criticism is Islam’s treatment of women and by extension sexuality, along with Islam’s culture of honour and shame. She clearly sees Muslim women as oppressed and in need of liberation from a culture that treats them as chattel.
And it’s not just radical Islam that worries her. Islam itself she questions, particularly the view that mainstream Islam is acceptable and somehow normal. It’s not, she argues. It’s deeply misogynistic, violent and antipathetic to the open society. This perhaps is her deepest insight and one that might be easily missed by outsiders to the religion.
Hirsi Ali’s life story is fabled enough, thanks to her bestselling memoir, Infidel, but her star continues to shine as a result of her unfinished intellectual mission. She still has work to do, bringing the truth about Islam and what it means for Western values, into the light.
And don’t we need it. Just think of the glum, half-hearted defence of the brave editors at the French satirical journal, Charlie Hebdo, who defied the threats of the Muslim world and mocked the Prophet in their cartoons in September.
Who can disagree with their argument that they have mocked the Pope and other nabobs of religion in the past, so why stop with Islam?
You would be hard pressed to nominate a more courageous and honest intellectual than Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born former Muslim, Dutch MP and friend of the late Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, brutally murdered for his film Submission, which he had made with Hirsi Ali’s help.
We certainly need more encouragement from our leaders when it comes to dealing with what some call the “clash of civilisations” after the late American political scientist, Samuel Huntington.
Islam is much closer to home for the West than it has ever been, thanks to mass immigration.
The capacity of Muslims to adapt and assimilate to Western societies is one of Hirsi Ali’s preoccupations; it relates directly to her own experience as an immigrant in a welcoming, open and free Holland.
She believes that modern multiculturalism is misguided because it traps Muslim immigrants in their old ways and their subsequent failure to assimilate leads to alienation.
Her life story proves this point. Instead of blaming the West for the problems of the Islamic world, she calls on Muslims to adapt and change, just like 14-year old Malala Yousafzai did when she became an activist for the educational rights of girls in Pakistan.
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