Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hirsi Ali: "Islam is not a Religion of Peace"

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Book Review by Michael Isenberg

Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali From Brussels, to Paris, to San Bernardino, whenever Islamic terror strikes, our left-of-center friends hasten to remind us not to judge Islam by the acts of a few radicals. “Islam is a religion of peace,” they assure us. Terrorists act out, they say, not because of anything in the Quran, but because of poverty, or global warming, or because the CIA played a role in overthrowing a “democratically elected” Iranian communist—sixty years ago.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a reply to our left-of-center friends, and she states it in no uncertain terms on page two of her book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now:

[I]t is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts of radical Islamists can be divorced from the religious ideals that inspire them. Instead we must acknowledge that 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 contained in the hadith.

Let me make my point in the simplest possible terms: Islam is not a religion of peace.

Miss Hirsi Ali is well-qualified to offer insight into the minds of Islamists. She was once one of them—before she became their target.

She has told her story in detail in her earlier books, Infidel and Nomad, but it bears repeating and Heretic includes a brief summary. Born in Somalia and raised in Saudi Arabia and Kenya, she came, as a teenager, under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. She was never a terrorist; she didn’t engage in violence. But she sympathized with those who did:

When Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran called for the writer Salman Rushdie to die after he published The Satanic Verses, I didn't ask if this was right or what it had to do with me as an expatriate Somali in Kenya. I simply agreed. Everyone in my community believed that Rushdie had to die; after all, he had insulted the Prophet. My friends said it, my religious teachers said it, the Qur'an said it, and I said it and believed it...the appropriate punishment for his crime was death.

But Miss Hirsi Ali didn't remain an Islamist. The watershed event was an arranged marriage to a Somali expat living in Canada. Her family put her on a plane to take her to her new life, but, since she did not want to marry the man, instead of changing planes in Germany as planned, she bolted. She made her way to the Netherlands where, exposed for the first time to Western values, she became a vocal critic of Islam in general and the Muslim treatment of women in particular. She collaborated with director Theo van Gogh (great grandnephew of Vincent van Gogh) on the short film Submission, which superimposed images of abused women with Quranic verses that justified the abuse. This earned the ire of Islamists for both Hirsi Ali and van Gogh; Muhammad Bouyeri, a Dutch Muslim of Moroccan descent, gunned van Gogh down in the street, slit his throat, and left a note pinned to his chest with a knife. In it, Bouyeri explained why van Gogh deserved to die—based on verses from the Quran. The note went on to include implied threats of death against “Mrs. Hirshi Ali” as well. In Heretic, Miss Hirsi Ali writes,

I can certainly remember Dutch academics claiming that, behind his religious language, Bouyeri’s real motivation in wanting to kill me was socioeconomic deprivation or postmodern alienation. To me, however, when a murderer quotes the Qur’an in justification of his crime, we should at least discuss the possibility that he means what he says.

Discuss it she does, and the conclusion she comes to is that Islam needs nothing less than a reformation on the scale of the one that shook Christianity five hundred years ago. Unlike Martin Luther, who nailed ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, Miss Hirsi Ali has just five:

Only when these five things are recognized as inherently harmful and when they are repudiated and nullified will a true Muslim Reformation be achieved. The five things to be reformed are:

  1. Muhammad’s semi-divine and infallible status along with the literalist reading of the Qur’an, particularly those parts that were revealed in Medina;
  2. The investment in life after death instead of life before death;
  3. Sharia, the body of legislation derived from the Qur’an, the hadith, and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence;
  4. The practice of empowering individuals to enforce Islamic law by commanding right and forbidding wrong;
  5. The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

These five theses form the core of the book; there is a chapter dedicated to each. For me, the most interesting is the fourth; the chapter is called “Social Control Begins at Home.” Part of what interested me is that this topic, unlike the others, has received little attention elsewhere. The injunction to “enjoin good and forbid evil” appears numerous times in the Quran and it always struck me as a harmless platitude. But the reality is far more insidious. Miss Hirsi Ali shows from her own experience how it works in practice:

When I was a teenage girl growing up in Nairobi, I wondered aloud in our house why the ritual prayers had to be said five times a day. Why not cut the number down to once a day? My half sister overheard me talking and almost immediately launched into hours of lectures, not just on that day but on many subsequent days, about my failures to perform my sacred duty as a Muslim. Nor did she confine herself to lecturing me. She also went about lobbying my extended family to have me “sent away” to be treated for “madness” because I had dared to ask a question about our faith and its practice.

Miss Hirsi Ali finds this pattern of pious bullying repeated in many locales—in the Harvard classroom where Muslim students tried to shut her down during her seminars, in neighborhoods from Raqqa to London where vigilante Sharia police patrol the streets, and, most tragically, in the thousands of Muslim communities rocked by “honor killings” every year. She documents numerous cases, including the Arizona man who ran over his daughter with a Jeep—for wearing makeup and liking boys—and the Brooklyn man who beat his wife to death—for serving lentils instead of goat meat. Miss Hirsi Ali fills a dozen pages with such horrors; her conclusion:

Taken together, commanding right and forbidding wrong are very effective means of silencing dissent. They act as a grassroots system of religious vigilantism. And their most zealous enforcers find in these words an excuse not just to command and to forbid but also to threaten, to beat, and to kill. I think of it as the totalitarianism of the hearth.

The prospects of a Muslim Reformation don’t seem bright when we see these crimes daily on our TV and computer screens. Nevertheless, Miss Hirsi Ali is optimistic. “The best evidence that a Muslim Reformation is actually under way,” she writes, “is the growing number of active dissidents and reformers around the world.” In an Appendix, she cites dozens of such people, and thereby answers the oft-asked question, “Where are the moderate Muslims?” She concludes by urging her readers to open their eyes to the true nature of Islam, and to support those brave souls who have dedicated their lives to changing it, so that some day, in the not-too-distant future, Islam might join Christianity and Judaism as a religion of peace.

Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. For his own take on the relationship between Jihadis and Islam, see his talk The Islamic in Islamic State on YouTube.