Despite being a bit of an old showbiz queen, I’m not much for the huggy-kissy photo wall of me sharing a joke with various luvvies. I make an exception on the bureau behind my desk for a shot of yours truly and a beautiful woman, Somali by birth, Dutch by citizenship, at a beachfront bar in Malibu at sunset. I like the picture because, while I look rather bleary with a few too many chins, my companion is bright-eyed with a huge smile on her face and having a grand old time—grand, that is, because of its very normality: a crappy bar, drinks with cocktail umbrellas, a roomful of blithely ignorant California hedonists who’ll all be going back home at the end of the evening to Dancing With the Stars or Conan O’Brien or some other amusement.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali can’t lead that life. She lives under armed guard and was forced to abandon the Netherlands because quite a lot of people want to kill her. And not in the desultory behead-the-enemies-of-Islam you-will-die-infidel pro forma death-threats-R-us way that many of us have perforce gotten used to in recent years: her great friend and professional collaborator was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a man who shot him eight times, attempted to decapitate him, and then drove into his chest two knives, pinning to what was left of him a five-page note pledging to do the same to her.
What would you do in those circumstances? Ayaan and I had repaired to that third-rate bar after a day-long conference on Islam, jihad, free speech and whatnot. That’s usually where I run into her, whether in Malibu or at the Carlton Club in London or at a less illustrious venue. Would you be doing that with a price on your head? Or would you duck out of sight, lie low, change your name, move to New Zealand, and hope one day to get your life back? After the threats against the Comedy Central show South Park the other week, Ms. Hirsi Ali turned up on CNN to say that the best defence against Islamic intimidation is for us all to stand together and thereby “share the risk.” But, around the world, every single translator of her books has insisted on total anonymity. When push comes to shove, very few are willing to share the risk. The British historian Andrew Roberts calls her “the bravest woman I know.” I would say she is not only the bravest but also, given her circumstances, the most optimistic. I have an unbounded admiration for her personally, but a not insignificant difference philosophically, of which more momentarily.
Maclean’s interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali — On living under a fatwa and why Christians should try to convert Muslims
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s great cause is women’s liberation. Unfortunately for her, the women she wants to liberate are Muslim, so she gets minimal support and indeed a ton of hostility from Western feminists who have reconciled themselves, consciously or otherwise, to the two-tier sisterhood: when it comes to clitoridectomies, forced marriages, honour killings, etc., multiculturalism trumps feminism. Liberal men are, if anything, even more opposed. She long ago got used to the hectoring TV interviewer, from Avi Lewis on the CBC a while back to Tavis Smiley on PBS just the other day, insisting that say what you like about Islam but everyone knows that Christians are just as backward and violent, if not more so. The media left spends endless hours and most of its interminable awards ceremonies congratulating itself on its courage, on “speaking truth to power,” the bravery of dissent and all the rest, but faced with a pro-gay secular black feminist who actually lives it they frost up in nothing flat.
The latest is Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Reviewing Ayaan’s new book Nomad, he begins:
“She has managed to outrage more people—in some cases to the point that they want to assassinate her—in more languages in more countries on more continents than almost any writer in the world today. Now Hirsi Ali is working on antagonizing even more people in yet another memoir.”
That’s his opening pitch: if there are those who wish to kill her, it’s her fault because she’s a provocateuse who’s found a lucrative shtick in “working on antagonizing” people. The Times headlines Kristof’s review “The Gadfly,” as if she’s a less raddled and corpulent Gore Vidal. In fact, she wrote a screenplay for a film; Muslim belligerents threatened to kill her and her director; they made good on one half of that threat. This isn’t shtick.
But Kristof decides to up the condescension. Of the author’s estrangement from her Somali relatives, he writes: “I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps Hirsi Ali’s family is dysfunctional simply because its members never learned to bite their tongues and just say to one another: ‘I love you.’ ”
Awwwww. Group hug! Works every time.
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