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Infidel


Well, here it is. After much haranguing by Matthew and Lounsbury, everyone finally gets to hear what I think about Ayaan Hirsi Ali's memoir, Infidel. When I started the book this past summer, I forced myself to read it with an open mind (as opposed to the snarky cynicism I've applied in the past). However, this mindset was soon abandoned once it became clear that it was simply an elaborate attempt to win sympathy and establish a personal brand. For non-critical readers, such as the dimwit at NYT who called her book "brave, inspiring and beautifully written," Hirsi Ali emerges as an embattled, courageous soul who escaped the benighted world of Islam and found sanctuary in the enlightened West.

The truth is of course more mundane.

Hirsi Ali had a difficult childhood. She moved around a lot because her father was a political activist. He was away for months or years at a time, and largely disappeared after remarrying and starting a new family. Her grandmother was an uneducated rural woman who clung fiercely to quasi-Islamic beliefs and traditional customs (e.g. forcing her granddaughters to undergo female circumcision even after her father had flatly refused). Her mother, abandoned by her husband and forced to depend on clan charity to raise Ayaan and her two siblings, fell apart and subjected her children to extreme physical and emotional abuse. Years later, her sister Haweya exhibited similar manic/bipolar behaviour and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. She later died from a miscarriage brought on by a psychotic episode.

Reading the first half of her book, it's not hard to feel sympathy for Hirsi Ali. Clearly she spent a good portion of her life feeling abandoned, isolated and powerless. The second half, however, is a detailed account of her cynical opportunism. Hirsi Ali lied to immigration and social workers about her background to secure refugee status, welfare and low-cost housing. She went on to say that her work in the public sphere was an attempt to "make up" for these lies - a nice bit of glurge to spoonfeed morons - but hardly convincing. Lots of immigrants fabricate stories for perfectly banal reasons and never look back. In any case, the rest of the memoir describes her impressive gaming of the Dutch political system to become a mediocre single-issue MP in a center-right party at a time when Dutch society was struggling with its immigration and multiculturalism policies. Hirsi Ali vaulted herself into the limelight by offering a simple answer - Islam is the problem - and providing her life story as conclusive evidence.

This brings me to my second observation: Hirsi Ali can't get her story straight. The Economist review noted the following:

In her earlier book, “The Caged Virgin”, which came out last year, Ms Hirsi Ali wrote that her sister came to the Netherlands to avoid being “married off”. In “Infidel”, however, she says Haweya came to recover from an illicit affair with a married man that ended in abortion.

Infidel is littered with such inconsistencies. One in particular caught my eye because it mentioned the mysterious Sister Aziza, an influential figure in Hirsi Ali's childhood. According to the New York Times:

When Hirsi Ali was 16, an Iranian-trained Shiite fundamentalist arrived to teach at the previously Anglophile Muslim Girls' Secondary School in Nairobi...

In the tender way of an elder sister, Aziza began questioning the girls about their Muslim observance. A Muslim prayed five times a day, she told them, and anyone who did not was not a Muslim. A Muslim did not wear shorts and T-shirts, even to sports class. The teacher took them to eat sweets and read magazines at the Iranian Embassy -- the East African equivalent of being wined and dined...

''We all wanted to be martyrs,'' Hirsi Ali says, ''or I did, because we saw what the Iraqi army was doing to the Iranians. Only it was always 'We the Muslims,' '' meaning Iran, ''and 'They the infidels,' '' meaning Iraq, ''helped by the huge devil, the United States...''

Curiously, Infidel described Aziza as a Kenyan Arab educated in Saudi Arabia. So was she a Saudi-trained Sunni pimping Wahhabi-style Islam or an Iranian-trained Shiite fundamentalist trying to win support for the Iranian Revolution? Or something else entirely?

Why does this matter? Because context is everything.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born after the collapse of pan-Arabism and and grew up during the rise of political Islam. Irshad Manji was born around the same time. Both of them were exposed to flavors of this ideology during childhood. They were told by teachers/activists to assert their Muslim identity by wearing jilbabs or chadors, they were inundated with anti-Israel rhetoric and they were told to reject Western culture and values.

Does every Muslim child encounter this line of thinking? Certainly not. Did more Muslim children hear about this line of thinking in the 1960s and 70s? Probably, because it was intellectually fashionable at the time and Iran's theocratic rulers hadn't fucked the country up yet.

If Hirsi Ali (and Manji) had bothered to include historical context with their childhood recollections, readers would have immediately understood that the practice of Islam is not static and unchanging. Muslims are not part of a giant hive mind and the practice of Islam varies significantly by region and time period. The experiences of Manji and and Hirsi Ali have a lot to do with their respective cultural backgrounds and the intellectual influence of Iran at the time.

Of course, one can't admit that and still demand that Islam be crushed.

Posted by eerie at November 9, 2007 08:46 AM
Filed Under: Society & Culture

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Comments

Would Hirsi Magan have attained the profile she has were she not beautiful?

This is a serious question.

Posted by: sideshowmurph at November 10, 2007 08:21 AM

Serious answer: I think Wafa Sultan lags behind Hirsi Ali and Manji for that very reason.

And I'm better looking than all of them. Imagine if I had no ethics!

Posted by: eerie [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 10, 2007 10:53 AM

That gives me a great idea. What if someone were to do the whole muslim reformer thing. They could go to town with their heart wrenching stories and fiery rhetoric - only to reveal a few months down the line that "you've all been had. I am not really oppressed, but look how much money I made! Suckers!"

That would be hilarious

Posted by: Ali K at November 10, 2007 01:56 PM

I think Wafa got a makeover of sorts for that very reason; I don't have link but I thought I saw a recent pre-never-appearing-book tour photo.

Posted by: matthew hogan at November 10, 2007 03:15 PM

"Imagine if I had no ethics!"

(I think there's a subcommunity of Eerie journal fans who spend an inordinate amount of time doing precisely that.)

But to return to topic, does she make any bald false assertions -- women can't own property, female circumcision is an Islamic requirement, Deuteronomy wrote a book of the Bible.

Posted by: matthew hogan at November 10, 2007 07:09 PM

Yeah, poor Wafa is obviously at a disadvantage. She lacks both the stunning classical beauty of Hirsi Magan, and the chirpy, telegenic dyke chic of Manji. Instead, she comes across as a dumpy mid-West housewife... fancy that.

Ali,

Nice thought.... But until the day comes when being a 'radical' unapologetic Muslim gets you invites to Gala dinners, uncritical prime time interviews on US TV, bestselling ghost-written 'memoirs' and lucrative speaking tours and engagements with right-wing think-tanks, this is unlikely to happen. If and when it does, it'll be about as easy to find a professional 'Muslim reformer' in the US as it was to find a Nazi in Berlin in 1945

Posted by: sideshowmurph at November 11, 2007 08:49 AM

Sideshowmurph-

"Nice thought.... But until the day comes when..."

I am confused here. Isn't this what's already happening?

Posted by: Ali K at November 11, 2007 10:53 AM

Eerie, did the book offer any insights into AHA's work as an immigrant women's advocate, or details on the kind of work she did that gave her credibility in talking about the abuse of Muslim women in the Netherlands?

Posted by: SP at November 11, 2007 02:37 PM

"I am confused here. Isn't this what's already happening?"

Maybe I needed to make myself clearer. By 'radical' unapologetic Muslim" I was thinking of a hijab-ed woman who was a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights and a stern critic of the US/Israel. A person who believed in conservative (not neccessarily fanatic) Islamic values and did not believe the world would be a better place if only all Muslims would learn to behave like "civlised" Christians and Jews. Last time I looked, such people weren't being fawned over by Larry King or making it onto the NYT bestseller lists.

Posted by: SideshowMurph at November 12, 2007 12:53 AM

No doubt that the native informant is way more successful nowadays among Westerners if they're female and attractive. I would find AHA (or rather AHM) more interesting if I was sure that she had a good at the expense of all these gullible Westerners so easy to con. Not more sympathetic, just more interesting.

Posted by: sanaa at November 12, 2007 01:14 AM

Sideshow-

Sorry, I realise now that I have misread your point. Perhaps I should clarify mine: I meant by muslim reformer a Manji/Hirsi-style "reformer" who will make stuff up to conform to people's stereotypes, and see what he can get away with. Sort of like a Muslim Brass Eye

Posted by: Ali K at November 12, 2007 11:20 AM

Sideshow-

Regarding your other point, why should such people get exposure just because they are radical unapologetic muslims? I think we could do less with the identity politics types, not more.

Posted by: Ali K at November 12, 2007 11:26 AM

"Regarding your other point, why should such people get exposure just because they are radical unapologetic muslims?"

I'm not suggesting that they should. I'm just saying that it's hard not to come to the conclusion that th Manjis and Hirsi Magans of this world have adopted their particular media persona at least in part because it is lucrative. Were the tables to turn, and were it to become fashionable (not to mention lucrative and popular with the media) to espouse the opposite worldview, what's the bets that they would suddenly 'rediscover' their inner pro-Palestinian, anti-American Muslim?

Posted by: SideshowMurph at November 13, 2007 12:00 AM

SM,

Both Manji & Ali are BELIEVERS. They're not in it for the $$$. They wouldn't turn.

--MSK*

Posted by: MSK at November 13, 2007 03:12 AM

I agree. They are true fundamentalist believers. They pray to the god of $$$

Posted by: sideshowmurph at November 13, 2007 08:45 AM

In terms of Ali-Magan I think there is a lot of opportunistic ego involved.

Posted by: matthew hogan at November 13, 2007 09:53 AM

MH,

I agree, but still hold that she's a "believer" (btw, what's the html code for underline) & thus would not sell out.

--MSK*

Posted by: MSK at November 13, 2007 11:55 AM

I might be able to accept your point that Hirsi Magan genuinely believes in what she does. But Manji? To me, she displays all the signs of an opportunistic media w***e who was quick to cash in on the market for a telegenic "Muslim moderate".

Posted by: SideshowMurph at November 14, 2007 05:44 AM

I'm really really confused. This article confused me because I can't understand the author's "side." Is he a conservative Muslim, a "progressive" Muslim or not even a Muslim? The comments were even more confusing!

Posted by: Yasser at November 14, 2007 08:20 AM

What confused me even more was that you're talking about Ms. Ali as beautiful? It may be a personal preference, but shez damn ugly to me! Anyhow, don't mean insulting her, but am just confused.

Posted by: yasser at November 14, 2007 08:22 AM

The author of the review is a she.

Posted by: matthew hogan at November 14, 2007 09:09 AM

Ah Yasser, I think I know you.

Primo (Awalen): the author (Eerie) is Muslimah as one often writes in Arablish, but I think we can say Liberal in the European sense.

Secundo (Thaniyen): as to Hirsi Ali / Magan's physical appearance - well I think one has to be a racist cunt to say she's ugly (perhaps you're thinking she's got an Abid or Khadima face? The unexamined racism of the Arab world in this area is worthy of an article), but on the other hand even the fines connaisseurs des samraa would confess that the Media loves to ... promote the political darlings, male or female, as 'stunning' or some such so long as they are not hideous.

Bad western political journalism.

However, to find Hirsi Ali "damned ugly" well you're a bloody racist even if you don't or can't admit it.

Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 14, 2007 04:38 PM

Yeah, 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' as the boring old cliche goes. I personally think Hirsi Magan is stunningly beautiful - even if I despise her, but I accept that not everyone has to agree. However, I find it hard to see how anyone could consider her 'ugly'. I mean, c'mon.... even Wafa might be 'plain' but 'ugly'?

Posted by: sideshowmurph at November 15, 2007 07:25 AM

from the beginning, it was what she said that annoyed me; I could care less about her appearance, although I know Somali (and Ethiopian) girls who I would consider far more 'stunning' than her, I also think that women's appearance is irrelevant in judging what she *actually says* - in this case, tripe - and unfortunately, thanks to our television and visual media, where appearance trumps intelligence - see NBC's Katie Couric or CNN's Anderson Cooper - we deal more with women's appearance than what they say.

As to racism, I think that the more slim ethiopian/east african women probably do evince less attraction from both Arabs and Westerners - one exception might be Iman, Bowie's supermodel wife - having seen the way Africans got treated in Saudi, I would think Lounsbury may be rather close to the point in what he says. (on an off-side, a friend once joked when I asked about recycling projects in saudi, that "We do have recycling here, haven't you seen those women digging through the garbage?")

Posted by: dawud at November 16, 2007 10:18 AM

yes, the racism. Reminds me of something I read on MWU, on how Arabs have internalized the notion of white skin being superior, hence the fast-track career of white converts to imam-hood.

Posted by: Klaus [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2007 09:13 PM

On a sidenote, I find Ethiopians and Somalis to be generally very beautiful people. It's that slender nose, I think.

Posted by: Klaus [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2007 09:15 PM

"she's got an Abid or Khadima face?"

I'm sorry but I do not know the reference, Col.

I can't see how anyone would describe the woman as ugly regardless of what their ethnicity is. I'm whiter than Caspar with my Anglo/Irish-Teutonic-Slavic lineage and it's obvious to me that she would turn heads on the street.

Posted by: zenpundit at November 16, 2007 10:44 PM

he's asking Yasir, whose nic is Arab, whether she looks to him like an 'abid (slave) or khadima (servant) - both names used by Gulf Arabs and Saudis to refer to labourers, but more generally the Africans who may be house servants, slaves/beggars or prostitutes.

Posted by: dawud at November 17, 2007 12:45 AM

Dawud-

I am sure it is not just Gulf Arabs and Saudis who use those terms. In fact, I don't think khadima is used in that sense at all. Probably in the maghreb?

As for abd. That's one of my pet peeves. It is basically used by some people as a synonym for black, even though its literal meaning as you correctly point out is slave.
What gets to me is that every time I try to correct someone who uses that term I get the standard "kolna ibad allah (we're all slaves of God)" reply. I despair.

Posted by: Ali K at November 17, 2007 10:36 AM

Explained supra, the Khadima usage in the Maghreb is more or less synonymous with Slave.

And yes, Ali, that is an utter rubbish response. Bullshit faux piety to cover up bigotry.

Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 17, 2007 06:49 PM

By the way, we do need to develop a comment on Race & MENA.... something neither idiotic apologetics nor Islamo/Arabophobe shrieking about racism (or rather better and more accurately since "race" in its Anglo-European sense is not the issue as such) colour /ethnicity prejudice.

Besides myself, I now several contributors can comment from various perspectives.

Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 18, 2007 12:58 PM

Gracias for expanding my knowledge.

BTW, while race was always the dominant paradigm of tension in the West, color differentiations was an important distinction as well in the antebellum as well as the Jim Crow South.

Legislation on "mulattoes", "quadroons", "octoroons" and Indian "half-breeds" existed - with the greatest emphasis being in Louisiana with its powerful creole class, fraterities and secret societies of New Orleans. Haiti, too, always had social, political and caste distinctions between "noirs" and Haitians with some French or Spanish descent.

Posted by: zenpundit at November 18, 2007 02:22 PM

yeah. Nothing quite says internalization like the Brown Paper Bag Test.

Now why did my two earlier comments not appear?

Posted by: Klaus [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 18, 2007 11:00 PM

Sorry, missed some housekeeping duties.

Posted by: eerie at November 19, 2007 01:53 PM

Well she hasn't got a "khadima" face surely, aren't they of some possible Australoid origins? The Yemeni ones at any rate.

I'd be interested to see Mearsheimer'sand Walt's given a look by some of our learned reviewers.

Posted by: secretdubai at November 22, 2007 05:10 PM

Paraphrasing Monty Python's Pirana Brothers sketch -- I've seen people pull their own heads off rather than go see themselves reviewing Palestinian-Israeli-American issues.

Posted by: matthew hogan at November 22, 2007 06:24 PM

Dear SD,

M&W: They got bitten by the Edward Said bug -> Good substance but they let their emotions/agenda get the better of their scholarship.

You can do much worse than read these three posts by Dan Drezner (and then follow links):

http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/003471.html

http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002886.html

http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/003562.html

MH,

I'd love to review it, but am too caught up in work, travel, and watching the soldiers in my street deciding if they're gonna intervene in the current crisis or not ...

--MSK*

Posted by: MSK at November 23, 2007 05:28 AM

if i may.....presume to correct the Lounsbury...
Ali is telegenic.
She is very tasty to the camera....kinda like O.J. Simpson. Cauc features thru a mirror darkly, lol.

Posted by: jinnilyyah at November 25, 2007 08:06 PM

Some late answers:

Matthew: does she make any bald false assertions -- women can't own property, female circumcision is an Islamic requirement, Deuteronomy wrote a book of the Bible.

Hirsi Ali spouts the usual ignorant tripe about verses in the Quran, Mohammed being a pedophile, etc. She actually started with a somewhat balanced paragraph on FGM, but it quickly got swept away by generalizations. Again, very little context.

SP: Eerie, did the book offer any insights into AHA's work as an immigrant women's advocate, or details on the kind of work she did that gave her credibility in talking about the abuse of Muslim women in the Netherlands?

Not really, only that her translation work was lucrative. I think her "intellectual epiphany" came about when she went to university and read a bunch of atheist lit. You know how teenagers go through an "naive atheism" phase before realizing that atheists can be just as stupid as religious people? She's still stuck there.

Re: motivations, I think Hirsi Ali is an approval-seeking opportunist who revels in the negative attention (I have previously mentioned the lengthy, gleeful descriptions of her brawny Dutch security detail). Manji seems more to me like a "true believer."

Re: racism, the comments here led me to spend an entire afternoon reading about the Black Power/Black is Beautiful movement and possible correlations between afros and hijabs (identity, etc). I think there is a real need to explore race, MENA and Islam.

Re: the Mearsheimer/Walt book, I found their initial paper sloppy with basic facts. However, I've always found it interesting that I-P debate is vigorous in Israel, but often amounts to hysterical shrieking and finger pointing in the US.

PS - long time no see, jinni

Posted by: eerie at November 26, 2007 04:39 PM

Sigh, predictable.

Here's another, new interview with AHA in which, in addition to the same old same old, she seems to have realised she can pitch a "revolutionary" and a "reformist" product, and almost gets the two mixed up in the same interview.

http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/article3199090.ece

Posted by: SP at November 27, 2007 09:27 AM

"It had a thrill to it, a sensuous feeling. It made me feel powerful: underneath this screen lay a previously unsuspected, but potentially lethal, femininity. It sent out a message of superiority: I was the one true Muslim."

With only a slight inversion, I think this nails her today personality.

"It has a thrill to it, a sensuous feeling. It makes me feel powerful: underneath this persona lays a potentially lethal, femininity. It sends out a message of superiority: I am the one true brave secularist."

Posted by: matthew hogan at November 27, 2007 10:00 AM

heyas eerie(fellow jinni)!
good to see u. ;)

Consider Ali's demographics.
Her core constituency is middleaged white guys.
AEI pays her salary....for why? Is she some sort of covert propaganda weapon in the War on Terror?
lol.
Middleaged white guys buy her books. She is spectacularily irrelevent to young muslimahs like eerie.
btw Wretchard is a middleaged white guy. He just totally doesn't get it. Note the scolding tone of the essay. According to him, muslim females must all have Stockholme Syndrome.

Posted by: jinnilyyah at November 27, 2007 10:16 AM

Arrrrrrghh curse you SP for posting that link.

Posted by: eerie at November 27, 2007 11:04 AM

BTW, the WaPo article in jinni's Belmont link is interesting.

Posted by: eerie at November 27, 2007 05:18 PM

Matthew,

interesting comment. In fact, I don't even think you need the inversion. The first original quote fits perfectly.

Except she might source that feeling from another population she values more now.

Posted by: Shaheen [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 27, 2007 11:38 PM

Shaheen is correct...Hirsi Ali is the token "true" muslimah that her middleagedwhiteguy constituency wants to see.
Remember, they are also her paymasters, lol.
It is all about l'argent.
Islamophobia is a burgeoning industry.
That foul buffoon Robert Spencer makes a tidy living from it also.

Posted by: jinnilyyah at November 28, 2007 04:31 PM

True, well written and reflective.

Posted by: Mishmisha at February 24, 2008 05:43 AM

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