Hilary McPhee The Age July 17, 2010
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's convert-like zeal is both disturbing and delusional, writes Hilary McPhee.
AYAAN Hirsi Ali has brains and beauty and is a gift to those of us who like our prejudices confirmed. In Australia, where she returns regularly to promote her books, she reinforces our idea of the Muslim world as monolithic, mediaeval and dangerous. Islam is all bad, religion is the problem, Allah is the villain. The West is better in every respect. These days she proclaims the American way with stars in her eyes.
Hirsi Ali's early life was difficult and spent on the move between Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Had she grown up elsewhere — in parts of the Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or Teheran perhaps — she might have been able to give us a more complex and sympathetic picture of the Muslim world, but I suspect not. As each of us is shaped by family and culture, it was her dysfunctional family that formed her, and gave her the courage and impetus to escape — a harsh mother she despised, an educated politicised father she idealised until "he fell back into a trance of submission to Allah", a younger sister she had hopes for but who married and retreated from the life being offered in Europe.
Hirsi Ali's story is extraordinary and her books, mixtures of memoir and analysis wearing their dramatic single-word titles like brand names, are highly popular throughout the West. A Muslim apostate is both consolation and vindication in uncertain times.
Infidel told the story of her family and her flight to Holland to escape an arranged marriage, how she learnt the ropes of the welfare system and the workforce, before gaining a university education. How she became a member of the Dutch Parliament, worked with immigrant women, scripted the film Submission, of Koranic verses projected onto a naked woman's body, a provocation for which the producer, Theo van Gogh, was murdered and she received death threats. From then on, she was provided with bodyguards by the Dutch Government until a political furore over her citizenship status caused her to leave Holland for the US.
In 2006, she accepted a job with the ultra-conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, which had provided much of the rationale for military intervention in Iraq and for rebuilding the image of Israel in the world through a conservative alliance with America. Nomad is dedicated to the past president, Chris DeMuth, "my surrogate abeh" (father).
Hirsi Ali describes this time as her intellectual coming-of-age. With her now private bodyguards, she travels the US and those parts of the world that welcome her message, lecturing on the evils of Islam and explaining her remedies, scornful of more than 1.5 billion Muslims. After Allah, Muslim women receive most of the blame — childlike, unable to manage money, trapped in their marriages, pouring their frustration into damaging their daughters.
We are never reminded that more than 50 countries from Indonesia to Iran through Africa and the Middle East have Muslim majorities and vastly different cultures and histories.
A perspective on the role played by poverty, illiteracy and rural conservatism is missing.
The books aren't much good. Infidel, ghostwritten in Dutch and published in English translation in 2007, came at the right time and sold hugely. Nomad is an awkward retelling of her story through the lens of imagined contact with her sister and her dying father, her hated mother and her dead grandmother. Framed by a chapter called "A Letter to My Grandmother" and an epilogue called "A Letter to My Unborn Daughter", are large chunks of out-of-date polemic echoing Bernard Lewis and Samuel P. Huntington. The "clash of civilisations" gets a rerun.
Her targets are predictable. Multiculturalism is utopian, producing victims and welfare dependence. Feminists are naive to suggest that many women in the West are also manipulated, complicit, objectified. Germaine Greer cops it for cultural relativism; Tariq Ramadan for being Tariq Ramadan.
There is a depressing absence of hope or empathy. Micro-financing, which has for years been helping women out of poverty, doesn't rate a mention; nor does the improved literacy in some Islamic countries; nor the belated but huge investment in education in some rich Arab countries. The growing numbers of Muslim women in public life and scholars reinterpreting the Koran and Shar'ia, described by Isobel Coleman in Paradise Beneath Her Feet, do not fit her thesis and are ignored.
Hirsi Ali has joined the ranks of celebrity atheists. Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens speak of her beauty and tiny wrists. The latter is in a state of adoration: "For me the three most beautiful words in the emerging language of secular resistance to tyranny are Ayaan Hirsi Ali."
I wonder what they make of one of the "remedies" in Nomad that Muslims would be better off being Christian and that the Vatican joins the campaign to save Muslims from themselves.
There is something disturbing and slightly delusional here, the zeal of the convert protecting herself from facing the consequences of her own actions and theories, perhaps. The cult that surrounds Hirsi Ali could engulf her. She's a one-woman band against her own culture, a hero to herself as well to the men who worship her. I can't help but fear for her.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is in conversation on July 29 at the Capitol Theatre. Bookings: wheelercen-tre.com.
Hilary McPhee, editor, writer and former publisher, has been liv-ing and working in the Middle East. Her selection of recent Australian writing, Wordlines, is published by Five Mile Press this month.
It is important to note, at the bottom of her article, that McPhee has been living in the Middle East. Her mind is clearly loyal to the Middle East. She negates Ali by mentioning that her employer had the gall to be working in favour of Israel. To call her books "not much good" is ridiculous. I was spellbound by her book "Infidel" as were many others. Perhaps Ali is too critical of Islam in saying there is no such thing as moderate Islam. But in every other way she is describing reality as it has happened to her and others. McPhee seems to like Tariq Ramadan. He is considered wonderful by the left-wing, although he is an apologist for Muslim extremism and a grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who provided the ideology of Al Qaida. What does McPhee say about that? McPhee rationalises Muslim backwardness by blaming illiteracy. But why is there so much illiteracy in Muslim countries? Could it be because of the culture? McPhee blames Ali"s anti-Muslim stance on the fact she is an apostate. The death sentence on Ali is BECAUSE Sharia law says one must be killed for leaving Islam. What does she think of that? I"ve heard Ali on Phillip Adams program, arguing against Western feminists. She is disappointed that they cannot stand up for Moslem women, who are often in a situation of life and death. What does McPhee say about that?
Posted by Ruth on 2010-07-31 23:28:01 GMT
McPhee is a typical apologist for mohammedanism. She presents her sophistry as nuanced analysis: wherever one goes in dar-ul-islam, inequality, prejudice, misogyny, homophophobia, jihadism, aggressiveness and supremicism either dominates or has a very strong and tolerated presence. McPhee"s smears Hirsi Ali by trying to link her to atheist and conservatives as though those of themselves discredit her views, which in fact evolved as she matured in a tolerant, civilised society. The brutes can do no wrong brigade mires iself daily in defending the enemies of civilisation.
Posted by paul2 on 2010-07-19 06:38:14 GMT
the simple fact: Ali needs a bodyguard in the US! why? But on the other hand, try this for hypocrisy http://bit.ly/9EOA9N
Posted by fred lapides on 2010-07-18 10:23:28 GMT
McPhee"s article portrays no journalistic merit nor any intelligent thoughts. The fact that she found a willing publisher in The Age" is not surprising.
Posted by Danny on 2010-07-18 08:07:03 GMT
Well said Ronit!
Posted by Hanna on 2010-07-18 07:49:07 GMT
If one delves a little into Hilary McPhee"s recent background and writings, it is clear that she has been a pro-Palestinian idealogue for a while and has swallowed their propaganda hook, line and sinker. Read this article she wrote about a year ago for the Griffith Review: http://www.griffithreview.com/edition-24-participation-society/224-memoir/649.html It is not clear whether she is just caught up in her naive, bleeding heart leftism, and gullible to every Arab sob-story no matter how unsubstantiated, ... or whether she is somehow the recipient of some financial gain from Arab sources. Recall that Griffith University received large Saudi grants to set up Islamic studies at the university, and there has been a lot of appeasement in connection with Griffith. Whatever the case, the Age has really lowered itself in having such a biased and ignorant person as McPhee review the honest and brave writings of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in writing of a culture that she knows well, unlike naive McPhee.
by MT on 2010-07-18 05:45:51 GMT