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"It may be naive, stupid, irrational, but I'm doing this because I think that if I do, there'll be less honor killings, fewer little girls undergoing female genital mutilation like I did."
It's not quite that simple, however. She's complicated because, as admirable and courageous as she clearly is, it's also fair to say that she almost gleefully alienates the people who share her stated goals.
"Hirsi Ali is more a hero among Islamophobes than Islamic women," notes Lorraine Ali in Newsweek. Nuruddin Farah, the exiled Somali novelist who is one of the most respected thinkers on the continent, has spent a four-decade career championing strong Somali women -- and even he makes it clear, while on book tour, that he doesn't think much of her. ("There are plenty of others to criticize her," he says, ending the conversation.)
The film she scripted, "Submission," showed naked women who had been beaten by husbands or family members, with verses from the Koran projected onto their flesh.
When it was screened for a small audience of Islamic women at a Dutch shelter for abused women -- and you'd have to figure this would be her core audience -- they were appalled, not inspired. The screening was filmed for television, writes Buruma, and when one of the women stressed her objections, Hirsi Ali dismissed her with a wave of her hand and, "So long, then."
"It was this wave, this gentle gesture of disdain, this almost aristocratic dismissal of a noisome inferior, that upset her critics more than anything," he writes.
But Hirsi Ali sees herself standing in the long light cast by the Western Enlightenment thinkers: Voltaire, John Locke, John Stuart Mill and maybe Thomas Jefferson. The stifling clergy, the sackcloth-and-ashes drag of faith and superstition -- all rinsed away by the ablutions of personal freedom, reason, logic.
How heady! How liberating!
"Three hundred and fifty years ago, when Europe was still steeped in religious dogma and thinkers were persecuted -- just as they are today in the Muslim world -- Spinoza was clear minded and fearless. He was the first modern European to state clearly that the world is not ordained by a separate God. . . . Now, surely, it was Islam's time to be tested."
Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia in 1969, the daughter of a prominent political dissident. Oral recitation of family history, going back hundreds of years, was the initial means of education. It taught one's place in the world, from whom you came and to whom you belonged, whom you could trust and whom you should fear.
This was buttressed by the teachings of Islam as she saw it -- one neither questions nor critiques Allah or His prophet, Muhammad. There is only submission. For women in Somalia, and in Saudi Arabia, where the family lived for several years, this submission suffocated all possibility of self, sex, love, career, life.