Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The premise of this book is so obvious that it is alarming to think we need a book to present its case. Why is it, Ali asks, that nice white people* are against Islamic dissidents?  (*expression I adopted after reading Stuff White People Like)

Shortly after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Asra Noumani, a Muslim reformer, spoke out against what she calls the ‘honour brigade’ – an organised international cabal hell-bent on silencing debate on Islam.

The shameful thing is that this campaign is effective in the West. Western liberals now seem to collude against critical thought and debate. I never cease to be amazed by the fact that non-Muslims who consider themselves liberals – including feminists and advocates of gay rights – are so readily persuaded by these crass means to take the Islamists’ side against Muslim and non-Muslim critics.

and later….

In short, we who have the luxury of living in the West have an obligation to stand up for liberal principles. Multiculturalism should not mean that we tolerate another culture’s intolerance. If we do in fact support diversity, women’s rights, and gay rights, then we cannot in good conscience give Islam a free pass on the grounds of multicultural sensitivity. And we need to say unambiguously  to Muslims living in the West: if you want to live in our societies, to share in their material benefits, then you need to accept that our freedoms are not optional. They are the foundation of our way of life; of our civilisation – a civilisation that learned, slowly and painfully, not to burn heretics but to honour them.

The more I think about this situation, and think of females I know who consider themselves to be radical feminists lining up to take shots (do I mean that figuratively?) at Ali and others whose lives are threatened every day for urging Islamic reform, I come to my conclusion that anti-racism is the last bastion of sexism. To be seen as anti-racist is the only important mark of being a nice white person left. By defining concern about the plight of women under Islam to be this invented propaganda word ‘Islamophobia’, it has been straightforwardly established that women don’t count at all. And even females who call themselves ‘feminist’ are terrified of this accusation of being an ‘Islamophobic’.

I read Heretic just after it first came out on the recommendation of a friend and I am still uncertain what to say about it. Her message is important and one understands her bewilderment at being reviled and even prevented from speaking in universities. I wonder if universities were ever places of safety for free speech or if I’ve lived in fantasy land. They certainly aren’t any more.

I commend it to the reader for the rationality of its central thesis. Of course Islam needs a Reformation. What a pity those who argue the case are vilified the world over, both within the Islamic world and by nice white people.

Having said that, the book itself is a bit of a mess. It could have done with less haste and a good editor to help its structure and the way it goes about delivering its message. Passion may be enough for a blog post or a review, but for a book of this type? I criticise other pop nonfiction for not being rigorous, so why not this book too?

Maybe because the issues are not just important but of the moment. The content of this book is living around us every day right now. Most recently in Australia, Pauline Hanson, the much pilloried politician came to Parliament in full burka. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. It inspired a speech by Conservative politician Senator Brandis who attacked Hanson for mocking Islam by her behaviour. Supposedly he was close to tears. And this brought him into an unusual orbit: that of the love and warmth of nice white people who detest the Conservatives as a rule.

If you want to follow the details of this:

Pauline Hanson wears burka to Question Time in the Senate, slammed by George Brandis

Burkas are political symbols not Islamic ones, Muslim scholar says

Pauline Hanson’s stunt was a mere distraction from the national vote on same sex marriage. This led to the article on ABC: Same-sex marriage: Why have Muslims been so quiet in the debate?

Every now and then I visit London and go into a bit of a frenzy in an English bookshop – such a rare treat. This time, having spotted Heretic I bought that and three more by Ali. In retrospect, one would have been sufficient. However, I am curious to see if any of the others improve on the rough and ready sense of this one. I’ll be disappointed if they don’t.

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