Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Mystery of the Islamic Apostate

Why did Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was once a devout Muslim completely reject her religion? Here's a clue:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a household name in Europe. Her story would seem far-fetched if it were fiction. Born in Somalia to a critic of the dictatorship of Siad Barre, her family fled when she was six - first to Saudi Arabia and then to Ethiopia before finally settling in Kenya. There she attended a Saudi-funded religious school and was, in her words, "indoctrinated" into a traditionalist form of Islam. She recalls that she wore a hijab, supported the fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie and had a knee-jerk hatred of Jews. Until, that is, she started reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Fascinated by a female character who operated freely in society, Hirsi Ali would later say that the stories played a major role in changing her attitudes towards the West.

Mystery solved -  Nancy Drew freed Hirsi Ali from religious fundamentalism!

I just came upon that fascinating fact today - I had recently mentioned Hirsi Ali because of her role as executive producer of a movie that is critical of anti-woman traditions in Muslim-majority countries - what Social Justice Warriors call "Islamophobic." They used the movie as an excuse to attack Gloria Steinem.

I have such mixed feelings about Hirsi Ali - she's a confirmed atheist, which I very much identify with, but she is Islamaphobic (which is not the same as saying her movie is) and makes common cause with the likes of New Atheist creeps Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Although you can understand why she might feel so strongly against Islam, since her grandmother had female genital mutilation performed on her when she was five, and of course the very real, hard-core misogyny that does infuse Islamic fundamentalism.

And then there are her friends even further to the right of Dawkins and Harris - she works for the American Enterprise Institute and she's married to failed economist Niall Ferguson, of whom Krugman says:
My own unpleasantness with Ferguson began when he tried to weigh in on monetary versus fiscal policy without understanding basic macroeconomics. Later, he tried to critique official inflation numbers without knowing enough about that subject to tell the difference between the experts and the cranks. Now he’s demonstrating, rather embarrassingly, that he doesn’t know how to read CBO reports.
So you have to wonder whether Hirsi Ali is very bright herself, to marry such an arrogant dumbass.

She is wrong about Islam in exactly the same way that Dawkins, Harris and all the other right-wing New Atheists are wrong about Islam - Hirsi Ali demonstrates her wrongness in this Wall Street Journal editorial about the Boko Haram kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls. She gets cause and effect backwards.
So, imagine an angry young man in any Muslim community anywhere in the world. Imagine him trying to establish an association of men dedicated to the practice of the Sunnah (the tradition of guidance from the Prophet Muhammad . Much of the young man's preaching will address the place of women. He will recommend that girls and women be kept indoors and covered from head to toe if they are to venture outside. He will also condemn the permissiveness of Western society. 
What kind of response will he meet? In the U.S. and in Europe, some moderate Muslims might quietly draw him to the attention of authorities. Women might voice concerns about the attacks on their freedoms. But in other parts of the world, where law and order are lacking, such young men and their extremist messages thrive.

Notice what Hirsi Ali does there - she asks the reader to imagine an angry young man in a Muslim community. But why did he become an angry extremist in the first place? What is it about extremism that appeals to him?

What Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and Hirsi Ali and the right-wingers who showed up to try to shut down a mosque, in a blatant rejection of the American principle of freedom of religion, believe is this: Islam, all by itself, turns young men into angry extremists.

They believe this so firmly, and so unquestioningly that they don't even think to explain it explicitly.

But Hirsi Ali herself admits that there are moderate Muslims - if Islam turns young men into angry extremists, how is the existence of moderate Muslims even possible? It never occurs to Hirsi Ali that there is a logical dissonance there. And this logic fail leads her and Dawkins and the others to a simplistic conclusion, although Hirsi Ali doesn't state it in the WSJ op-ed: "all we have to do is get rid of Islam and those angry young Muslim extremists would become happy and content free-thinkers."

It's a very odd feature of New Atheists that they believe so strongly in the all-powerful properties of Islam, that it alone, of all religions, has the power to make young men angry. It's almost as if they believed in sacred texts and magical incantations themselves. And how strange that so many public intellectuals are incapable of considering the complex interactions of socio-economics and history on the demeanor and lifestyle choices of young men.

But back to Nancy Drew - why is she playing the bagpipes in the cover illustration to "The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes"? Because Nancy Drew can do almost anything. She wasn't a super-hero in the strict sense of the term, but close enough for my satisfaction, so from the age of about eight to eleven I devoured every Nancy Drew Mystery I could get my hands on. I dreamed of meeting her author, Carolyn Keene.

And then I discovered that there was no Carolyn Keene - the name was a pseudonym used by a whole bunch of writers!

It's enough to make you lose your religion.