Ayaan Hirsi Ali wants to modify Muslims

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has changed her mind. She had always believed there was no hope of moderating Islam. It was a creed that needed to be “crushed”. Now she says that Islam can and indeed must be reformed.

Max Rodenbeck, Middle East Bureau Chief for The Economist, reviews her book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now for the New York Review of Books.

Hirsi Ali begins by describing an atrocity that could have happened anywhere. Then:

    For too long, she says, Muslims and Western liberals have argued that such atrocities, as well as the ideas and organizations behind them, are aberrations; that they represent a travesty of “true” Islam. Nonsense, she writes:

    “They are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in Islam itself, in the holy book of the Qur’an as well as the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad…. Islam is not a religion of peace.”

However, she notes that scholars of the Koran have long distinguished between the eighty-six chapters, or suras, revealed at the Prophet Muhammad’s hometown of Mecca and the twenty-eight suras revealed later, during his exile at Medina:

    The Koran of the Mecca period dwells on themes such as the oneness of God, the wonders of creation, the wisdom of earlier prophets, and the perils of hellfire.

    At Medina, where Muhammad took on new roles as the lawgiver, supreme judge, and military commander of a growing flock facing stronger hostile forces, the revelation takes on a more militant, legalistic, and exclusive form. Earlier verses declare that there is “no compulsion in religion” as well as the tolerant principle, “to them their religion, to me my own.” By contrast a later sura, which appears to address soldiers shirking their duty, enjoins the faithful to “fight and slay wherever you find them” those unbelievers who have broken treaties with the Prophet.

Hirsi Ali believes the majority of Muslims belong to what she calls her “Mecca” category, a group she defines as devout worshipers who remain “loyal to the core creed” yet are “not inclined to practice violence.” She also identifies a small category of what she terms “Modifying Muslims,” people who have come, like herself, “to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.” She picks out five tenets of the faith that must be “reformed or discarded”:

    • The infallible status of Muhammad and the literal understanding of the Koran

    • Giving priority to the afterlife over the present day

    • Sharia law “and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence”

    • The empowerment of individuals to enforce such laws and customs

    • Jihad.

That’s a tall order, says Rodenbeck, but he says there are within Islam waves of doubt, reform and secularisation. He finds her writing problematic, including:

    such troubling aspects as her use of unsound terminology, a surprisingly shaky grasp of how Muslims actually practice their faith, and a questionable understanding of the history and political background not only of Islam, but of the world at large.

Hirsi Ali’s intent is to make people feel uncomfortable and generate discussion. Rodenbeck spends considerable time and space sorting through the issue and what she has to say. His bottom line:

    The very shrillness of today’s zealots may reflect an underlying fear that conservative orthodoxies are under threat as never before, facing a growing backlash not so much from the outside world as from within the faith. It is noteworthy that thirty-five years of self-declared “Islamic” rule in Iran have fostered not greater religiosity but creeping secularization, with ever fewer people observing religious rites. The more recent excesses of Islamist terrorism and sectarian rivalry have accelerated a far wider wave of doubt. Muslims with such doubts will not need Hirsi Ali’s hectoring to feel “uncomfortable,” and to consider new approaches to their faith. (Emphasis added)

There is plenty of interest in the review, including Rodenbeck’s statement that, contra Hirsi Ali, there is no tradition of murderous martyrdom:

    In fact the four main schools of Sunni jurisprudence—including arch-conservative Saudi clerics—all concur that suicide is a serious sin. Some individual clerics have condoned its use in war by invoking arguments of necessity, not “tradition.”

I read five other reviews, but Rodenbeck’s was by far the most helpful.

21 thoughts on “Ayaan Hirsi Ali wants to modify Muslims”

  1. Brian

    These days “Moslem” is considered offensive; it’s kinda like calling African Americans “negroes”. Best to stick with “Muslim”.

    Hirsi Ali has good personal reasons for hating Islam but I don’t rate her as a thinker. I’d even rate Karen Armstrong at least two clicks higher.

    In truth we don’t have a large field of moderate Muslim and ex-Muslim atheist intellectuals. Muslims outnumber Jews 100 to 1 yet credible Jewish intellectuals seem to outnumber their Muslim counterparts 100 to 1. The apparently impoverished intellectual life of these people is yet another why on rate them right down there with Scientologists and the Moonies

  2. Karen, seems you are right about Moslem/Muslim.

    A review should let the reader know whether a book is worth reading. I think Rodenbeck is saying that it’s not.

  3. Karen: Keep in mind that the enlightenment started with the intellectual flowering associated with the Caliphate. Islam was also associated with intellectual flowering in Spain, India, Timbuktu among other locations.
    Intellectual flowering has occurred time and again when the conditions were right under a whole raft of religions (and secularisms – like our current amazing era.)

  4. Johnno,

    I got 227,000 hits for Bobo the Intellectual Clown but since he is your role model I will make no “sweeping, dismissive comments”.

    I only hope you and Bobo live long enough to enjoy the blooming of the Green Caliphate.

  5. Karen: Ah yes, the Green Caliphate that saves the world from its crazy, unsustainable self.
    A glass of chemical free wine, a loaf of organic bread and a suitable thou beside a stream of unpolluted water. Sounds good to me.

  6. John, could you proof-read that comment, please? I know spelling is not important to engineers, but…

  7. Johnno

    Wine is composed entirely of chemicals and so is organic bread.

    However I’ll give you half a mark for your comment about water while pointing out that you can’t feed 7 billion Homo sapiens without causing environmental damage under any method of production. Need I also remind you that since organic agriculture needs more land than conventional agriculture, it is not environmentally sound.

    Then of course you have the
    * copper toxic soils from the organic Bordeaux sprays,
    * the cancer caused by organic rotenone
    *the increased rate of natural pesticides and mycotoxins present in insect damaged organic fruit and veg

    The organic dream is at best childish and at worst a dangerous fantasy that may already be undermining global food security.

  8. From zoots

    If you want to hate an entire race of men and women for the actions of a few dickheads feel free,

    If this was genuine he’d know moslems are not a race.
    I call fake. ( yeah, idiots fake things on the Net )

  9. Or should I say, people with agendas fake things on the Net, idiots believe without questioning due to their agendas.

  10. Jumpy, if you follow the links you get to this news item.

    Doesn’t look like a fake to me.

    Race and religion get mixed up in people’s perceptions.

    BTW, it’s “muslims” rather than “moslems”.

  11. I’ve put this thread on moderation, that is, all comments will be moderated prior to publication.

  12. According to this Pew Survey, two-thirds of Muslims (from the seven Muslim countries polled) consider Westerners selfish, violent and greedy. Not even one single positive trait is associated with Westerners by more than one-third of the sample.

    The Westerner view of Muslims is a considerably more mixed batch of positives and negatives, with the second most commonly picked trait being honesty at 51%

    As to Afghanistan, let’s not forget that its Hazara minority is fleeing the country in droves because of genocide. Apparently the Hazara have been persecuted for centuries because they follow the wrong brand of Islam, Twelver Shia . Western “Islamophobia” is nothing compared to the phobia that Muslims frequently feel for other Muslims who belong to the wrong sect.

    Also, before we get too excited about how nice Afghan culture is, let’s remember that honour killing has majority support in that country, half of all Afghani men think women should not be allowed to work outside the home and more than half of Afghani men the husband should decide who a woman can vote for.

    The Lefty men here are welcome to their bromance with Islamism but as a gal I think I have good reason to find it mostly repulsive and scary.

  13. Brian

    Race and religion get mixed up in people’s perceptions.

    Yes, and that annoys me no end.
    It’s a form of ignorant profiling bigotry at best.

  14. Jumpy, I think your emotional reaction has affected your rational processing.

    Karen, I don’t see any “bromance with Islamism” on the part of Lefty men here. I see some trying to give some balance to the wall of negativity coming from you and Jumpy.

    Who brought up the Afghans?

  15. Quite right Brian, the guy lost his leg in Iraq not Afghanistan. My mistake.

    Delightful Iraq, where ISIS aided by indigenous Sunnis make pyramids of the severed heads of Yazidi men and children, rape and enslave the women and, well, you get the picture. But I’m happy to see that the modern Lefty man sees nothing other than the silver lining to all this …

  16. Karen, it seems in your view Islam is all of a piece and irredeemable. So any positive interaction with Muslims can not be spoken about unless the fatal connection with extreme fundamentalism is acknowledged and revealed.

    I guess it’s part of your aggressive atheism. Others come from a different position.

  17. Karen, I’m not going to publish your latest comment, given the language you use.

    You’ve said that you’ve already said that Islam will probably moderate and named the likely drivers, but right now it is mostly shite.

    But no-one is allowed to be encouraging or supportive.

Comments are closed.