Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Orhan Pamuk in Conversation
I see at least three problems with her analysis, The first is that - as I've noted here before - "Islam" is not nearly as extremist as she makes out. Facts often embarrass ideologies. The second is that Islam hardly is unique among world religions in being a source of violence and sexism (think, e.g., Catholicism). Nor - as I also have pointed out here before - does it stand out for being interventionist in the public realm. The third is that moderate Muslims whom she seeks to hoist up the mast of hypocrisy may see other - more complicated, additional or alternative - causes for the sorts of events that Hirsi Ali condemns. (For the record, I think each of the events she lists is outrageous and condemnable.*) So it may be that Hirsi Ali's polemic simply misses the mark. In fact, I think it does. In part, I think her essay is errant because it is animated by what she herself describes as her "classical liberal" senisibitites. As a political position such libertariainsm is quite flat-footed in the face of real world politics. (It is interesting that Hirsi Ali has found herself comfortable in the embrace of various right-wing insitituons in both of her adopted homelands - the Netherlands and the U.S..)
So, consider an interesting counterexample. In The Guardian today is a review of a new collection of essays, Other Colors, by Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk, of course, can claim many of same political bon fides as Hirsi Ali, having been subjected to death threats for expressing his political views. So we can place that trump card aside. His views about politics, however, seem considerably more subtle than Hirsi Ali's. He is concerned, as a writer and intellectual, with matters of free expression. And so, here too, he cedes nothing to Hirsi Ali and her "classical liberal" views. But he also offers a considerably more complex view of the causal forces at work in politics both within the Islamic world and between "East" and "West."
The collection contains one essay, "The Anger of the Damned," the Pamuk wrote in the aftermath of 9/11, different versions of which appeared in The Guardian and The New York Review of Books. In the essay Pamuk explores the conditions that make fundamentalism appealing, that make it the sort of tool that political actors throughout the Islamic world (though not only there) can use to whip up hysteria and frenzy. In the process he tacitly suggests that those like Hirsi Ali who condmen particular events (and, he might well think that condemnation warrented) miss the underlying more systemic causes of events and patterns.
* By the way, it is interesting to note that when asked at his press conference last Tuesday if he had spoken out to the Suadis regarding one of the condemnable events Ayaan Hirsi Ali mentioned, W waffled in the most embarrassing way. So, I wonder if Hirsi Ali is pushing Bush to speak up? His word might well carry some weight with the Saudis, no?