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Men and Women, Intellectuals and Infidels

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I was going to start this post this morning by saying I was feeling addled–but it occurs to me that I start most posts most days saying I’m feeling addled, and that’s because I am addled.

So maybe it’s a default state.

This morning,  I’m addled because we finally got Matt back from Philadelphia yesterday, after a week of missed trains and last minute crises that seemed to blow up in our faces when we least expected it.

As it was, we managed to pick him up around five on a Sunday night, on a day Bill Clinton was at Yale–oh, yah, New Haven end-of-the-week-end traffic and celebrity traffic at the same time.

So we got back late, cooked a turkey breast anyway, got to bed late, and now I’m up and being threatened with Iron Man 2, which Matt has already seen but wouldn’t mind seeing five more times, and Greg hasn’t seen, and I’d just as soon eat crackers in hell than see.

But I probably will, since that’s the way things go around here.

In the meantime, I’m up a little late, and not really started on the tea yet, but I did have a few things on my mind, oddly echoed by a link at Arts and Letters Daily this morning.

The link is to a review/article about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book,  Nomad:  From Islam to America, and you can find the article here


if you don’t usually get Arts and Letters Daily and want to have a look.

For those of you who don’t know, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born woman who made her way from her homeland to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage to a man many years her senior, and who later became a member of the Dutch Parliament  and the collaborator, with Theo Van Gogh, on a movie about women in Islam called Infidel.

The movie lasted seven minutes, but it got Theo Van Gogh killed at the hands of a Muslim extremist and put Hirsi Ali under 24 hour protection for years–she’s still required to travel everywhere with bodyguards. 

It also nearly got her deported.  When Hirsi Ali came to the Netherlands she claimed political asylum, because she knew she would not be admitted if she confessed to fleeing an arranged marriage.

Which is an interesting point in itself, which  I’ll get to later.

I’d like to point out, however, that among her other distinctions, Hirsi Ali is a victim of FGM, freely practiced in Muslim families in Somalia.

The reason this article struck me particularly this morning, is that I have just–yesterday–finished reading Paul Berman’s new book, The  Flight of the Intellectuals.

In spite of the title, this is not a book about how Wester intellectuals suck.  It’s a book about a Western  Muslim “moderate” intellectual named Tariq Ramadan, and the way he’s been lionized in the Western press and by high-level Western academics as a “bridge” between traditional Islam and Enlightenment values.

Berman spends the entire small book  proving, by reference to Ramadan’s own writings and to the writings of Muslim intellectuals Ramadan praises, including the long line of Muslim intellectuals in Ramadan’s own family, that Ramadan is “moderate” only if you don’t bother to look into what he’s saying.

He will not, for instance, condemn the stoning of women for adultery. Among other things.  Mostly well known to American audiences by now.

At the end of the book, Berman includes a chapter in which he contasts the laudatory treatment of Ramadan by two international figures on the intellectual left, Ian Buruma and Tmonty Garton Ash, and the rather different treatment they have accorded Hirsi Ali.

Buruma, especially, seems to have reverted to male patriarchial type–his “criticism” of Hirsi Ali amounts to a primer for Sexism 101.  She’s “shrill.”

(For what it’s worth:  when a woman says something a man doesn’t want her to say and refuses to back down, she’s “shrill.”)

It’s all about her looks–if she hadn’t been pretty, nobody would have listened to her.  It’s about her “privilege” and the way she “looks down” on the poor Muslims in Holland.  (That last having to do with the way she was seen to wave a hand in a Dutch television shot of her in a poor neighborhood–how anybody got anything like this from a wave of a hand is beyond me.) 

And on and on and on.

When I read Buruma on Hirsi Ali, it’s like I’ve been transported back to 1965.  I keep waiting for him to ask why she doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Hirsi Ali was eventually forced out of Holland, hounded out by the indignation of Western politicians and intellectuals who declared her anathema, a neocon, a racist, you name it.

So now she’s here–at the Heritage Foundation.

Which will certainly make even more people like Ian Buruma describe her as a “neocon,” since Heritage is “right wing” in the American sense. 

On the other hand, as far as I can tell, the left wing wouldn’t have her.  Tariq Ramadan, who thinks the 9/11 attacks were justified, is offered teaching positions at American universities.  Hirsi Ali doesn’t have Ramadan’s academic credentials, but there are dozens of Women’s Studies departments across the country that hire women without such credentials because of their “life experience,” and as far as I can tell, they aren’t interested either.

(Although, to be fair, this isn’t the case across the board–the Council for Secular Humanism, for instance, is a strong supporter of Hirsi Ali and also of Ibn Warraq, author of Why I Am Not A Muslim and somebody else who has to go everywhere with bodyguards.)

Berman spends almost no time discussing the reasons for this sort of thing–he just sort of throws in a paragraph or two at the very end–and in a way, that was a relief.  There are lots of books explaining the reasons for this kind of thing.

Berman’s book, though, manages to give a more complete account of the actual issues involved in the French attempt to ban headscarves for Muslim girls in French schools–one that actually made me sympathetic to the French government position for the first time.

And he outlines the writings, ideas and practices of a whole slew of Muslim scholars now being touted in the West as “moderates.”

Berman’s book is worth looking into, and anything by Hirsi Ali is too.

And, like the writer of the article I linked to above, I’m glad she’s here, with us, in America.

Written by janeh

May 24th, 2010 at 8:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Men and Women, Intellectuals and Infidels'

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  1. Without acutally reading the book, or knowing much about Ramadan, I would like to say that ‘moderate’ is a comparative term, and someone who is ‘moderate’ compared to one group of Muslim intellectuals might well support views on punishing adulterers that most Western intellectuals find unacceptable. ‘Moderate’ is defined by the extremes, and a moderate position between those of extremely conservative Muslims and extremely liberal Westerners is certain to have aspects that repulse members of both extremes.

    I’m familiar with some of Hirsi Ali’s story, but I was unaware that her problems with her Dutch citizenship was that she’d lied in her refugee application. That’s something most countries would have serious difficulties with. I don’t know if she tried to get a position with some women’s studies department – I can see that she might have found that rather limiting, especially in a smaller or less prestigious university – or with some liberal think tank.

    I seem to be running into both rather archaic criticisms of women’s positions in stereotypical terms and automatic assumptions that the woman is always right lately. Me, I’m an old-school type feminist – I stopped keeping up with the movement after stuff kept getting added to the basic equal opportunity and equal pay for work of equal value stuff.

    It’s mostly a lot more muted than it used to be. I tend to see it as being used by lazy journalists, myself.


    24 May 10 at 5:43 pm

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