Letter to a Young Islamophobe

Ayaan Hirsi AliAP061001023052-thumb-400xauto-4681.jpg Dear Young Islamophobe:

You will do well to start with any of the books written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Her best-known work is Infidel. Her latest book is Nomad. She has also written a few other things. Anything written by Hirsi Ali will do; they all say the same things about the terror of Islam.

I read Nomad recently. It is littered with stories like the following: “In February 2009 in Buffalo, New York, a forty-seven-year-old Muslim businessman who had set up a cable TV station to ‘promote more favorable views of Muslims,’ beheaded his wife, who was seeking to divorce him.”

This is a short short-story. You can narrate it at parties. Imagine the shock (but perhaps not the silence, because these days everyone, it seems, has a story to tell about Islam). But you should also learn from Hirsi Ali’s style of writing. Starting with Infidel, her assault on Islam has been a spectacular success largely because she speaks from personal experience. She has suffered undeniable personal trauma but what you can emulate is her ability to cast the whole of the Islamic world as her victimizer and, in a stroke of genius, the whole of the West [read militarist, interventionist, Bible-toting US of A] as her savior.

There are other trade secrets that you can glean from a reading of Hirsi Ali.

I don’t think Hirsi Ali is popular only because she serves so well the designs of an Islamophobic West. Rather, she is read also for her simplicity and her success. That is worth thinking about. Nothing is more powerful as a shock-and-awe weapon of control than the idea called “the American Dream.” It insists that we invest the wealth of all our utopian energies in two ways of thinking: oversimplication, and delusions of grandeur that border on megalomania.

My wife’s hairstylist in our small town in upstate New York, a Muslim immigrant woman from Lebanon, has been reading Hirsi Ali in an effort to improve her English. This is because Hirsi Ali is a skilled writer. She tells her story in a direct, unadorned prose. Her style is of great assistance to her, not least because she believes in oversimplifying the world.

But Hirsi Ali is nothing if not also a seller of dreams. What she lays down on the page with such terrible earnestness is appealing because she keeps retelling the magical story of immigrant transformation. Reading her you feel redeemed. You too ought to think and write like that; if you do so, your reader will often make the mistake of going past your false righteousness and admire, instead, your grit and enterprise as a writer.

Hirsi Ali had asked once: “How many girls born in Digfeer Hospital in Mogadishu in November 1969 are even alive today? And how many have a real voice?” There’s real tragedy behind that question but at the end we only see Hirsi Ali’s high cheekbones shining on CNN.

You, Young Islamophobe, have shown great enterprise in choosing this moment to pursue your dreams. A conservative think-tank will soon be reaching out to you. I’m a messenger of your future well-being.

Yours etc.,

Amitava Kumar

[Mutineers, the Asian American Writers' Workshop sent two dinner tickets and six cocktail-hour tickets for this event. Who wants them? And why? The first eight to convince us they should be there get the goods. More details: Featuring Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Faiza Patel, and others. Tuesday, November 2, 6-7 pm dinner with authors, 7-9pm cocktail program. At the home of Faiza Patel, 111 Hudson Street, Apt. 6, New York City. Dinner with authors 6-7pm. Cocktails & literary discussion., 7-9pm.]

125 thoughts on “Letter to a Young Islamophobe

  1. Jyotsana,

    I hope you are not making judgement whether the conversions are right or wrong even if these conversions took place merely to acquire social capital as you have stated, especially given that you acquired your social and cultural capitals in India by simply being born into your caste and religion.

  2. @Anon, I wrote my comments after reading Laila Lalami’s article. My “framework” is based on the comments written by people here, being apologists for Islam. If you have issues with that “framework,” I’m open to discussion – that’s exactly why forums like this exist.

  3. Anon wrote: “Apologists for Islam” sounds like you have already made your mind.

    If it quacks like a duck….. If certain comments here qualify as being apologia for Islam, I see no problem in calling it like it is. And what’s wrong with making up one’s mind after due research and looking at facts? I don’t identify myself as an ideologue or a partisan, so I don’t really need to follow some ideological dogma or indulge in political correctness. YMMV. -shrug-

  4. @razib khan: I just wanted to say, that was extremely entertaining. I hope to see you around here more often.

  5. …given that you acquired your social and cultural capitals in India by simply being born into your caste and religion.

    Not quite, because the history of India from one perspective is all about how communities have gone about creating social capital. In my Taml Nadu for instance, there are three communities who have gone about wresting social capital, while internally transforming themselves, all without any conversion of identity. In fact the most interesting story about the much maligned Iyers and Iyengars of TN is their transition from paurohitya to the modern professions, and the emulation of this transformation by other communities in the state. In fact we should start with the transformation of one community of non-Brahmin Tamizh priests, that have for centuries officiated at kovils in Sri Lanka and Southern TN. It is a very different society.

  6. It’s unfortunate that Ayaan is simply presented as an Islamophobe in this blog, rather than as a fascinating woman that has lead a very difficult life and accomplished much. Her book Infidel was not the hyperbolic, hate-filled rant this post would lead you to believe. The book is a very enjoyable read, the vast majority of which is not a campaign against Islam. I found the criticism of Islam to be measured and not simply for sensationalism. I found much of the criticism to be relevant to all conservative societies and equally valid with the Shiv Sena types as well. I hope that people doread her book and make their own conclusions on whether she is an Islamophobe or not.

  7. @shasha01

    Maybe paying more attention to her words which include: support for the invasion of Iraq, call to invade Saudi Arabia and the justification of the occupation of Palestinians because Israel happened to be a democracy would not make her sound like an accomplished individual but as a bloodthirsty mass murderer. What she went through (being brutalized by her mom and grandma) was the fault of her grandma and mom which she later used to brutalize others who played no roles in what she had experienced. I am not trying to change your mind about her, worship her all you want, just don’t come and lecture us that she’s a good person. Her “criticism” is not just toward Islam, it’s about her call for Muslims to submit to her ideas.

    • the justification for the occupation of the Palestinians because Israel happened to be a democracy
  8. How do you define an islamophobe? If she wrote about the discrimination against women in Arabic/African/Asian society and stopped there, she would have been called a feminist activist. And then you would have written a long blog post on how a new light has arrived in the liberal world, right? Well, she also wrote how the scriptures of a particular religion justifies it. So, she went very very bad islamophobe, correct? The bottom line is you cal write against discrimination all you can, but you can not identify Islam as the root cause, then you are an islamophobe. The twisted liberal thought process always amuse me.

    Having said that, let us see the behavior of this accused islamophobe. She came to west seeking asylum to escape forced marriage and lied about it. Sure. But one can not accuse her for getting converted to another religion to marry someone and write herself as muslim to get a visa to Pakistan. Am I right, Safdar Ali Miyan? Come to think of it, why do not you use that name when you know that your religion provides such mandate?

  9. Alina, You are mistaken in your assumption that if we want to know what “real islam” is, then we can just open the quran or hadith and check what it says. You are missing some earlier steps in that sequence; First, the quran was compiled at a certain point by certain people. What point and which people is highly contentious. Ismailis in particular do not accept the normative Sunni Quran as the standard (there is some question about missing portions). The Sunni consensus about the quran developed over time and is enforced by apostasy and blasphemy laws, but is a product of history not an unchanging essence from day one. The belief that it IS unchanging essence from day one is projected back into history. Second, if the quran is taken as accurate, unchanged and as the ultimate source of all rules in Islam, it still does not lead to normative Sunni Islam by some straight line of reasoning. It takes some imagination, but if you try this thought experiment you may see what I mean: imagine you are an alien and you obtain the quran (and can read it). Your job is to create a religion (mythology, theology, practice, the whole shebang) based on this text. I can guarantee that your Islam will share some vague features with existing Sunni Islam, but will differ in too many ways to count. Islam is a product of history. That history includes ideas about itself and about the world, all of which have their own history. Particular steps led to the current corpus of quran and hadith and (more important) to your understanding that these are the appropriate sources on which the religion should be based…..the resulting Sunni consensus happens to be larger than alternative visions and is enforced in core Muslim societies with more than a touch of coercion, but it is by no means the only version or the only possible version…and it is likely to change over time. Two examples should suffice: One, slaves. Slavery is standard in the quran and hadith but disappeared from most of the Muslim world. Why dont your teachers insist on legal slavery based on quran and hadith just like they insist on head covering? Second, concubines. The quran explicitly permits males to have an unlimited number of slave girls and gives them the right to have unlimited sex with those slave girls. Why don’t you regard that permission as being equally valid today? Apparently it was part of “real Islam” but is no longer an essential part…..things change. The belief that they dont is itself one belief in the orthodox Sunni package, not a fact that stands up to scrutiny outside of that package..

  10. Sid,

    Well said. I don’t expect a Dhimmi who converted to Islam (at the behest of his “liberal” inlaws) to comprehend or appreciate Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s blunt, no-nonsense tomes.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a tough woman of the Oriana Fallaci mold, but I wouldn’t expect the Safdar Kumars of the Dhimwit world to stand up for her.

  11. The quran explicitly permits males to have an unlimited number of slave girls and gives them the right to have unlimited sex with those slave girls. Why don’t you regard that permission as being equally valid todayWhy do you assume I don’t regard it as an equally valid part of their religion? Do you think I’m going to pretend it’s not part of their faith because I think slavery is immoral? I think keeping concubines was the accepted culture up until the 19th century in some Muslim countries (I know the Ottoman Turks were big fans). It seems to have become unacceptable in their culture since then. Religious fervor seems to fade with modernity. I assume most 21st century Muslims would regard sex slaves as highly immoral. Polygamy is perfectly acceptable for them though, as long as it’s limited to 4 wives per man. Don’t ask me why it’s limited to 4. Don’t ask me why they can’t eat pork but chicken is ok. Don’t ask me why they need to pray a specific 5 times a day. Religion involves all kinds of rules and rituals, and Islam is particularly specific – there is a set procedure for how to cleanse yourself before prayer, the ritual of prayer itself, how many times a day to pray, at exactly what times, a ritual for getting married, a ritual for arranging a dowry, etc….Such is orthodox Sunni Islam. And don’t lump all the branches – Shiite, Ismaili, etc, together. They all have differing beliefs under the umbrella of a broad religion. But yeah, if a Sunni and Islaili have contradicting beliefs, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be considered different faiths, if we’re defining religion as a set of beliefs here.

    Also – the original argument was about Women needing to cover their hair for religious purposes. I’ve yet to hear of a single Muslim sect that doesn’t require women to cover their hair during prayer, reading scripture, etc. Maybe someone more knowledgable about Islam than I am can tell me? I’m sure there’s plenty of sects I haven’t even heard of.

  12. Alina, It seems I was not clear enough. I will try again someday. btw, I am not convinced about concubines and head covering being in the same category for you. You seem to have been actively pressurized about the head scarf thing. I really doubt you will face a lot of pressure to accept your husbands latest crop of slave girls. The second scenario is purely theoretical now….anyway, later.

  13. I’m late to this discussion but from a Feminist perspective – more power to Hirshi Ali for speaking out against an entirely male dominated (right up to the level of their God even) and highly patriarchal religion!

    I imagine that WOMEN would be more sympathetic to her cause than men.

    And that’s not saying that Islam doesn’t have some positive attributes (all cultures and religions have positive as well as negative attributes) but it definitely needs to be reformed and and it’s patriarchal structure needs to crumble and in it’s place either a matriarchal structure or gender-equal structure needs to be built.

    I think it will happen eventually but it will not be in my lifetime.

    Muslims like to say that Islam gave rights to women that they didn’t have before it’s inception and that may very well have been true AT THE TIME OF IT’S INCEPTION IN THAT AREA OF THE WORLD – but as Janet Jackson asks, “what have you done for me lately?”

    Writing from India I have to say a question that’s on my mind currently is: what if the population of India becomes 50% Muslim? How will that change the cultural landscape here?

    Will the “Abrahamization” of India take place? If so, how soon?

    There have been some issues with aggressive Christian missionaries but Muslims are much more populous here than Christians.

    I am obviously not a “Hindu Nationalist” since I’m not an Indian national, but as a member of a Dharmic faith as opposed to an Abrahamic one, I am also concerned about this.

    Regarding Ali’s praise of the Western world – let’s face it – the Western world’s answer to Janet Jackson’s question is “A LOT”.

    Decades of FEMINISM have made all the difference for women in the Western world.

    I wouldn’t trade that for all the jalebis in Chandi Chowk.

    When Radical Feminism infiltrates Muslim majority areas of the world, then maybe the opponents of Ali will have a point.