No disagreement here: Garton Ash vs. Hirsi Ali

Another long, eight-part debate, this time between Timothy Garton Ash and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Garton Ash is a master of backpeddling and the “veiled compliment” (you’ll have to watch the whole thing for Hirsi Ali’s rejoinder and Garton Ash’s embarrassing comeback quip). He insists they agree 100% on everything – except what they disagree on. Also, around the end of part six – assuming anyone reading this is as interested as I am in watching the whole thing – Hirsi Ali says something I can’t make out, which is followed by a long bleep-out of Garton Ash’s reply. At the end of part eight, it is explained that this had nothing to do with the debate and was omitted at Garton Ash’s request. Does anyone know what was actually said? If so, please share this tidbit of information in the comments section below.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali vs. Tariq Ramadan

Perhaps the two most discussed Muslims in the West today are Ayaan Hirsi Ali (well, she was raised as a Muslim but she’s an atheist now) and Tariq Ramadan. I’m not ready to write much on The Flight of the Intellectuals yet, as I’m only halfway through, though I should mention that I’ve been forewarned – by a friend and intellectual sparring partner – that Berman’s book will poison my mind. I have no clue what this is supposed to mean, however, and read on with great interest. I hope to discover just what is so noxious about it.

Here is a debate that should stimulate some further discussion among the ranks.

The New Hypatia

– for Ayaan Hirsi Ali


There once was a actress named Weisz
whose bashful, compassionate eyes
inspired us to rate
her Hypatia as great
and to weep when the heroine dies.


What little we know of her life
is bound up in trouble and strife
of an era in which
they thought her a witch
because she was nobody’s wife.


Neither Christian nor pagan nor Jew
she was one of the relative few
who today we would call
a freethinker, et al.
then degrade in the New York Review.*

* of Books

Meme this: if you like these limericks, you can help create a meme. Pass them around on the internet. Hopefully they will reach Rachel Weisz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali! Remeber, this is an experiment.

How? Be imaginative. Post a comment on Pharyngula, or Dawkins coined the word “meme.” Send it to your atheist cousin, or uncle.

What’s a meme? Anything that can be passed from one brain to another. If you wish to know more about the obscure reference to the NYRB, just google “Enlightenment fundamentalist.”

If you haven’t seen Agora, check Wikipedia for the basic outline of Hypatia of Alexandria’s life. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has lived with bodyguards and armed escorts for years because of her freethinking views. She was born in Somalia.

Paul Berman’s new book

Sam Harris and his Project Reason just sent this to my inbox. He’s finally decided that his was the only voice missing from the chorus and, just when it seems the Catholic Church has slipped back into a relative silence after months of well-deserved hardship on the public relations front, has now put in his own three cents worth.

Ron Rosenbaum has a long piece in Slate about Paul Berman’s new book The Flight of the Intellectuals. In fact, it was Harris who pointed me to Berman’s Terror and Liberalism which, if you haven’t read it, is a must-read. I never miss anything Rosenbaum writes, and word has it he has a book in the works on World War III or IV, I’m not sure which. Could it be a Berman-esque rebuttal to Norman Podhoretz?

I haven’t read the entire review yet, but the essential point about Berman’s book is that it is a defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or rather an attack on her liberal attackers. The names Garton Ash and Buruma surface here and there, as well as that of Tariq Ramadan. The question posed is, Why was Salman Rushdie defended by the same people who chide Hirsi Ali today? How has this softening of the liberal intellectuals (of which Berman and Rosenbaum are two) towards Islamism come about, and why?

Read the review. Then read the book. Then we’ll have a pow-wow over it.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali


On the eve of Durban 2, it might be worth recalling the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I just rushed through the last hundred or so pages of her autobiography, Infidel. It was a much different book than I had imagined, having approached it expecting a sort of female Christopher Hitchens–a snide wit ridiculing Islam, getting in a few punches below the belt for good measure. Of course, Hitchens is better than that much of the time, but Hirsi Ali is different altogether. She has a patient style, judicious even, and tells her tale bluntly. She is not angry with God (she is an atheist, so that would be contradictory), nor is she burning with rage against the Muslim world into which she was born. Her story is probably typical of many Somali women, except that her father was a high-profile revolutionary while she was growing up. Her genitals were excised at the age of six, as is the tradition of her clan. She was educated as a traditional Muslim, and even sympathised with the Muslim Brotherhood for a period while she lived in Kenya. She believed Islam was perfect and held the answers to all of life’s questions. Then something snapped, and she grew up.

She was betrothed to a man she had never met, and pretty much forced into marriage. The facade of tradition was already cracked, and while on a stopover in Germany (on her way to Canada to become her new husband’s property) she snuck into Holland, applied for refugee status, and was eventually accepted. She learned Dutch (which, from what I can gather, is her sixth language–after Somali, Swahili, Amharic, Arabic and English), studied political science, obtained a degree, and then began to wonder what to do with so much freedom.

Fast forward to Sept. 11, 2001. Hirsi Ali began to speak out about Islam, about how suicide terrorism is not the result of ignorance and poverty. She said the attackers were acting in perfect harmony with their faith. The more she spoke, the more people began to listen. She began to receive death threats, which she didn’t take seriously at first. Then, once a member of the Dutch Parliament, Hirsi Ali dedicated herself politically to the betterment of Muslim women’s lives. That was her bone to pick. She said the Prophet Muhammad would be considered a pedophile and tyrant in modern-day Holland, which some people didn’t like. The death threats began to get serious.

Then she made this film with Theo van Gogh:



Van Gogh was murdered in broad daylight in Amsterdam not long thereafter. He didn’t take the death threats seriously. Hirsi Ali was immediately whisked into hiding, shuttled from apartment to apartment, finally ending up in a motel in smalltown Massachusetts. At times even she couldn’t know where she was being hidden. She could not use a telephone or go online for any reason. She could not risk being traced. Her potential killers could be anywhere, ready at a moment’s notice to make good on their promise to cut her throat.

Even Hirsi Ali admits in her book that all this top-security mishaguss was a bit much. But she was a member of the Dutch government, so she got the star treatment. When she was finally allowed back in Holland, she was made to resign and had her citizenship revoked on a technicality. Her neighbors even complained that her presence made them feel unsafe. They rallied to kick her out of her home. So she became a refugee, again.

Long story short, she was offered a job in the United States, where she now lives and works. Her Dutch citizenship has been reinstated.

So why all the fuss? Ask the guys in Geneva.