Posted by: sean | May 23, 2010

Why Hirsi Ali isn’t a good interlocutor

Paul Berman is upset that some liberals think Tariq Ramadan is better placed to be an interlocutor with the Muslim world than, say, Hirsi Ali. Berman thinks that Ramadan is too extreme beneath the glossy veneer he presents to the West. Personally, I spent years in France avoiding his ubiquitous television appearances. I’m not really a fan, but there is one thing that can be said about him: he is part of the Muslim conversation, certainly in France and Switzerland and now apparently in the UK and US. Hirsi Ali, on the other hand, just isn’t. She’s a convenient mouthpiece for right wing Islamophobes who are afraid of sounding like bigoted jerks.

The New York Times has an interview with her in today’s Sunday magazine. This exchange alone should make it obvious why she isn’t a part of the Muslim conversation and why she shouldn’t be treated as an interlocutor with the Muslim world:

In your new book, “Nomad: From Islam to America,” you urge American Christians to try to talk to American Muslims about the limitations of their faith.

We who don’t want radical Islam to spread must compete with the agents of radical Islam. I want to see what would happen if Christians, feminists and Enlightenment thinkers were to start proselytizing in the Muslim community.

Hirsi Ali, through whom Paul Berman thinks the West should have a conversation with Muslims, wants to see Christians proselytizing in the Muslim community. And he wonders why people who know even the first thing about Islam don’t take her seriously.

For Americans looking to begin a debate with practicing Muslims, I’d like to offer a little bit of advice: someone whose book is called Infidel and who writes from her perch at the American Enterprise Institute is probably not going to be your best bet.


  1. So true. I’m unhappy about the way she was treated by the Dutch Minister of Immigration, but I’m not at all happy she’s no longer in the country…

  2. Did you see M. Young’s hilarious response in the National to the March article?

    If not, let me summarize: ‘we, here at Quantum, like our foreign correspondents young and dumb.’

  3. First of all, Ayaan might have be born a muslim but certainly she is not the type of muslim that is embraced in the muslim world.

    I’d like to compare her to the first women who fought to get the right to vote in the U.S. She’s extremely angry at the fact that women aren’t equals in muslim cultures. She has every right and wishes all muslim women to join her. Unfortunately it’s a slow process and when religion is at issue, it’s even slower. Women in the U.S. are still fighting for equal footing. Yes it’s better here but it’s years of fighting.

    She writes about the injustices under islamic regimes ~ is there a regime in the world that is completely just?

    If the gop wants to use her to bash Islam, I just hope she realizes she’s a pawn in their political web. A pawn to show the world how evil Islam is and like all religions it comes down to the interpretation and perceptions of mere men.

    I wish Ayaan luck with her fight for women’s equality everywhere.

  4. David:

    Yeah, I saw that. Embarrassing. I especially liked the part where he says: “Western soldiers have frequently mastered best the dynamics of Iraqi or Afghan society…” Really? All I can say is: wow.

  5. I don’t think the question was whether Ali or Ramadan is the best one to mediate between Islam and the West; The best interlocutor.

    The question seemed to be which of the two had the more correct view and useful understanding for Western non-Muslims. Which one should we prefer to adopt as our teacher.

    Ramadan may be indeed more persuasive and helpful to Muslims, but that is another matter.

  6. Ali doesn’t do anything for Muslim Women except bash them. There are others such as Baktiar, Mernissi, Al-Hibri, Wadud and others who are better advocates for Muslim Women.

    Likewise, Ali doesn’t do anything but bash Islam—there are better advocates for progress in Islam than Ali.

    Ali is only good at bashing Islam, not at understanding or expalining it to Non-Muslims. If that’s your cup of tea—fine but if not—there are many others who do a better, more honest job of explaining Islam.

  7. The problem with Ali is also a structural one, in that she has chosen as her allies several of the Islam-bashers both in Europe and the US. You dont make someone who supports Wilders an ambassador to the muslim world.

  8. Hahahaha she said “Enlightenment thinkers” hahaha. As if it was the 19th century!!! We people of modernity are all children of the Enlightenment, it isn’t exactly a specific group or cohort of thinkers now.

  9. Ms. Ali is little more than the former Muslim state version of Sarah Palin.

    Actually, that’s quite unfair in the sense that I do not doubt that Ms. Ali is far more intelligent than Mrs. Palin.

    However, Ms. Ali, like Mrs. Palin, employs her physical favorable appearance to spread her Theocractic message while, at the same time, lining her pockets with gold and keeping her offshore bankers quite busy.

  10. Ali is likely one of the worst candidates their is to reach out to the Muslim world. Case-in-point, her interview in the November 2007 edition of Reason Magazine . . .

    Q: Do you think Islam could bring about [desirable] social and political changes?
    A: Only if Islam is defeated.
    Q: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?
    A: No. Islam, period.
    Q: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
    A: I think that we are at war with crush your enemy.
    Q: Militarily?
    A: In all forms.
    Q: Are we really heading toward anything so ominous?
    A: I think that’s where we’re heading.

    Asked to respond to the comment that “we are not at war with Islam,” she offered, without answering directly, “There is no moderate Islam.”

    Q: So when even..Daniel Pipes says, “Radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution,” he’s wrong?
    A: He’s wrong. Sorry about that.

    The smart thing to do would be to get behind reformist Muslims including Muslim Feminists, but then that would require abandoning the grand scheme of eliminating Islam from the world, and instead co-existing. And that would spoil all the fun that a Clash of Civilizations would bring.

  11. Tehranchik wisely wonders, “[Ayaan Hirsi Ali] writes about the injustices under islamic regimes ~ is there a regime in the world that is completely just?”

    You are so right. I think on these grounds we can safely ignore anything she has to say about abuses of women in the Muslim world, so thanks for that.

    By the way, do I get to apply the same excuse to abuses committed by Israel? How about the US? Or is it just the injustices committed under “islamic regimes” that we get to let off the hook with this easy recourse to moral relativism?

  12. this is a good interview:

    one criticism she makes that I think is valid (and ironically of the “West”) is that left-wing EU feminists fail to criticize the (worsening) treatment of women in Arab Muslim countries

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