Columnist says Hirsi Ali's book is as hateful as the "hate" she comdemns
By Nvasekie N. Konneh
December 1st, 2007
At the time when Islam is under scrutiny everywhere in the world, with Islamic militants and extremists everywhere in the news, any criticism of Islam, especially by those who happen to have come from Islamic background, is a celebrated cause, particularly in the West.
Their criticism of Islam is considered more authentic because they belong to the faith or at some point they belonged to it.
This seemingly lifts the burden of being accused of prejudice from the shoulders of Western critics. Many a time western critics of Islam have demanded to hear the voices of moderation so as to counter the loud voices of the militants and extremists who continue to damage the reputation of the religion by their fanatic actions.
That’s where Ayaan Hirsi Ali comes in with her book, Infidel. The book is as provocative as its title suggests. As an African Moslem, I have my own reservation about the misinterpretation of Islam by these extremists, but I won’t go as far as calling the religion a “backward religion’ like Hirsi is saying in her propaganda.
For calling Islam a backward religion she is being hailed as a forthright thinker and activist. She was placed on the list of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People”; one of the Glamour magazine’s “Heroes of 2005,” and Reader Digest’s “European of the Year.”
All these flattering honors simply for bad-mouthing Islam and giving a narrow interpretation to it?
If her story was just limited to the fact that she is a refugee from Somalia who rises to prominence and power as a Dutch parliamentarian, she would be worthy of being celebrated as an immigrant success story. But again, the question is, could her rise to prominence and power in the Netherlands be possible if she had not become a poster child for provocative anti-Islamic rhetoric?
Reading through her experiences in Infidel, one senses that her view of Islam is very narrow. Yes, she lived in Saudi Arabia, and Somalia which are predominantly Moslem, and if her view of Islam is only influenced by what she experienced in those two countries, she has done a disservice to scholarship.
This is so because her understanding does not show the diversity of Islam as may be found from one place of the world to another. I grew up as a Moslem; my entire background is Islamic; and I have experienced life in Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and now the US. The Islam I have experienced in those areas is not the same as Ali portrays in her book.
Of the three countries in Africa that I have lived in, Guinea is the only predominantly Islamic country. Ivory Coast is 50-50 with Islamic dominated north and Christian and African faiths dominated south. Liberia has 25% to 30% Moslem population. In all these three countries, the Islam I experienced is never militant.
For us tolerance and peaceful coexistence with our neighbors who may be of other faiths is the norm. Having had the foregoing experience, I find offensive Ali’s wild allegations about Islam being backward and uncivilized. And Ayaan Hirsi Ali has offended lot of Moslems with her narrow analyses of the religion. What she has experienced in Saudi Arabia and Somalia do not in any way speak for all Moslems around the world.
Reading through her story, one may be tempted to say she hyped up wild stories to support her asylum case in Holland. I won’t be surprised about this because it is very common for asylum-seekers to make up stories in order to obtain immigration benefits. As we all know now, there was a big controversy over the fact that she lied to obtain her immigration status.
This led to her departure from the Dutch parliament. She was even stripped of her citizenship as a result of falsification on her asylum documents. With this book, Infidel, one may say she is continuing to hype up wild stories to gain more sympathy from her Western supporters. She has to reject her culture, demonize Islam, in her quest to become more Dutch than the Dutch themselves.
I would have agreed with her if she had made it clear that Islam is being misinterpreted by these militants and extremists. I would have agreed with her more if she had just criticized the misinterpretation of Islam by the militants and the extremists.
In some of my own writings, I have made that clear. In one of my recent opinion pieces published on my community website, I said that nothing is wrong with us having different points of view as Moslems but “when we begin to pass judgment on each other, going to the extent of assigning or sentencing others to hell because we do not agree with them, that’s where we go wrong.”
I went on further to say that “for me, it boils down to tolerance. It will serve us better if our scholars and imams were to exercise moderation in their teaching and preaching so that we, their followers can better understand and serve our God the right way.”
What I had expressed was social commentary, and not religious preaching. Some fellow Moslems in my community have different views of my commentary. While some in my community agreed with my comments, others expressed contrarian views because they thought that I was “not an Islamic scholar to write any opinion on Islam.” In any case, our relationship has not stopped because of it. We are still good friends living in the same neighborhood. I am not expecting to wake up one day to see someone wanting to harm me in any way. At least not here in the United States or in Liberia.
What is so disappointing about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and her other pronouncements whether in newspapers, radio, or television is that she refuses to talk about the diversity of views in Islam. According to her, her father’s Islam is a “non-violent religion” (179). According to her father’s version of Islam, “There is no coercion in Islam and no human being has the right to punish another for not observing his religious duties, only Allah can do that” (ibid). At one point during her childhood when they lived in Saudi Arabia, she heard her father saying of a certain practice: “This is not Islam, this is Saudi perverting Islam” (51).
Her father is not alone in making the distinction between what is real Islam and the misinterpretation of the militants and the extremists. So if Ayaan was aware of this view from childhood, why would she make it look like Islam is a religion that oppresses women when all along in the book she makes it clear that her father was a loving husband who treated his wife, her mother, very well?
All and all reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book, Infidel has made me question her sincerity, and her sense of intelligence. I feel like she wrote the book to appeal to western interpretation, which confuses Islam with Arab extremism and fanaticism.
Truth be told, there is a struggle in Islam today between these extremists that kill and maim people and the moderates who want peace just like any other group of people. Ali’s career and her book put the moderate Moslems in a very difficult position.
If you read her book and never read any other book by other Moslems, you come out with the view that Islam and Moslems are so backward and incompatible with the modern world. Contrary to that narrow-minded view, there are a lot of thinkers and writers in the Islamic world that have addressed the same issues with more clarity than she has done. It is ignorant of her to propagate that Islam is “brutal, bigoted, [and] fixated on controlling women.”
Islam like any organization based on ideology is susceptible to misinterpretation by people with selfish motives. In this regard, it will be fair to say that there are lots of people who have given their own interpretation to the religion based on limited understanding. Such people of limited thinking should be labeled as “backward.”
Conversely, there are many sound thinkers whose interpretation of Islam is consistent with the norms of civilization. One sophisticated thinker and intellectual that comes to mind is Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel winning Egyptian writer. On Islamic fundamentalism, here is what he says: “This poison has nothing to do with Islam, but it is no less deadly for all of us” (Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber, 110).
On women liberation, he has this to say: “Women liberation movements are essential components of any renaissance in a people’s history. Society cannot renew itself unless this is accompanied by a movement to liberate women” (127). These two quotes from the renowned Egyptian writer should negate all the falsehood Ayaan Ali is spreading in the world.
The story of women’s oppression is not new and certainly not limited to women in Islamic countries. There is no culture that has never had a past or present that oppresses women. There have been countless papers and books written on this subject by women themselves as well as by men. For this article, I will present two passages from a web article on the subject:
Since early times women have been uniquely viewed as a creative source of human life. Historically, however, they have been considered not only intellectually inferior to men but also a major source of temptation and evil. In Greek mythology, for example, it was a woman, Pandora, who opened the forbidden box and brought plagues and unhappiness to mankind. Early Roman law described women as children, forever inferior to men.
Early Christian theology perpetuated these views. St. Jerome, a 4th-century Latin father of the Christian church, said: "Woman is the gate of the devil, the path of wickedness, the sting of the serpent, in a word a perilous object.” Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Christian theologian, said that woman was "created to be man's helpmate, but her unique role is in conception . . . since for other purposes men would be better assisted by other men.”
Should the foregoing paragraphs make one conclude that Christianity and other cultures are uncivilized as Ayaan Ali would say of Islam? The fact is that societies throughout the ages have been male-dominated. Through the continuous struggle of feminist advocates, the conditions of women have improved over the years. Some societies have surpassed others in terms of equal freedom for both sexes. Even this diversity in terms of how women are treated is evident from one Islamic country to another. Despite all the talk of the rising tide of Islamic militancy in Pakistan, one thing that country can boast of is the fact that it had at some point in its history elected a female prime minister, something that is of rare occurrence even in the so called Western democratic nations.
All that one can say to Moslems and non-Moslems around the world is, don’t believe the hype being pumped by the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She does not speak for all the Moslems in the world. As I stated above, she must not confuse Arab militancy and fanaticism with true Islam. While we may speak of Islamic militants, it is also true that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become an anti-Islamic and anti-religious extremist.
About the author: Black Star News columnist Nvasekie Konneh is a nine-year veteran of the US Navy and the author of the book of poetry, “Going to War for America.” He’s a community activist and chairman of the Liberian Writers Network (LWN) and Editor in Chief of the Limany website. Besides writing, Nvasekie Konneh is a music producer, promoter and CEO of the KonnLove Entertainment and Production, based in Philadelphia, USA. Contact: KonnLove@aol.com or 215 869 2463.
Source: Black Star News