Monday, May 22, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The scapegoat - Los Angeles Times

THE UPROAR IN the Netherlands over its Somali-born member of parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is much more than a national controversy. It goes to the heart of the culture of appeasement that currently grips Europe... The failure goes far beyond the Netherlands and Hirsi Ali. Britain, Washington's principal ally in the war on terror, has succumbed to just the same cultural cringe. It allowed Islamist demonstrators to parade on the streets with placards proclaiming, "Death to the Infidel," and it even initially threatened to arrest those citizens who protested at such displays (it was subsequently shamed into arresting a demonstrator). Meanwhile, Tony Blair's government is inviting Muslim Brotherhood radicals into the heart of his administration in the hope of drawing the sting from the Islamist scorpion...This has produced a systematic appeasement of all minorities — racial, sexual and religious — in terror of vilification as racist, sexist or Islamophobic.

Well not exactly all minorities--just the ones that have financial clout or threaten violence. Middle-class gay males certainly get a hearing which is probably a good thing--we wouldn't have cared much about AIDS if it were just one of those nasty African diseases like malaria. And, of course, young lower-class males threatening violence always get a hearing, especially if gang leaders are clever enough to spin their activities ideologically as an uprising of the Oppressed. We're afraid of them. No worry about the veiled, sequestered Muslim women who Ayaan Hirsi Ali defended--they haven't got money and aren't likely to do damage.

As far as Hirsi Ali goes, she got too hot to handle. Once it became inconvenient to keep her safe, support peeled away and once she was vulnerable an opportunistic politician, playing to blood-and-soil racists who didn't want black people around, however integrated or assimilated, revoked her Dutch citizenship. That's politics though--and why I'm not in it.

The racist right wants people of color out, but the only socially acceptable way of putting that is by making noises about integration and assimilation--given the assumption that they cannot or will not assimilate. Anyone who genuinely supports integration and assimilation will be drawn into their orbit and, if she happens to be black like Hirsi Ali, will be spun off. The multicultural left isn't likely to be sympathetic either--after all this is politics: you have to make the right noises and, if black or brown, play the designated role of a "community leader" who is "representative" of the "community" and able to mollify the thugs, like Tony's friends in the Muslim Brotherhood.

I wonder how long before the American Enterprise Institute spins off Ayaan Hirsi Ali.


Sanpete said...

The LA Times editorial is a pile of hooey. I can't tell if the author is dishonest or just didn't care to check her facts before publishing her inflammatory views in a major newspaper. It's usually some combination in a case like this, I think. What she says about Hirsi Ali is just false and misleading.

The first misleading remark (about Hirsi Ali--the whole piece is vapid and appears to be misleading) is that her speaking out against the oppression of women under Islam and unrestricted Muslim immigration has led to threats on her life. There are plenty of people in Europe who have spoken out against those things and don't need guards. What the author leaves out is that Hirsi Ali has spoken out in the most offensive ways, and not only against oppression. She has been highly insulting of Islam as a faith. (This is why most of the women whom she is said to be "defending" probably don't feel defended by her.)

The author says without any evidence that the Netherlands has turned against Hirsi Ali because she has spoken out. Again, it is apparently her manner that has soured the public on her.

The author cites the court ruling against Hirsi Ali's residence in a government owned house because of complaints of neighbors (of harrassment by guards) as though it supports the claim that the country has turned against her. She gives no evidence of a connection there, or that anyone else would have fared differently in similar circumstances.

The author says the TV program about Hirsi Ali's fraudulent citizenship application contained no new information, and that the fraud was just a matter of details. Completely false. The TV show revealed evidence that Hirsi Ali lied about several aspects of her application, including some of the most substantive parts. She claimed to be fleeing war-torn Somalia to avoid an arranged marriage, and she explains the false name and age she gave as efforts to keep her family from finding and harming her. The TV program pointed out that she had already been out of Somalia for over ten years (in Kenya as a UN-protected refugee, where her real name would have shown up, then Germany), and it included interviews with family members who claimed there was no arranged marriage and who contradicted other points of her story. She reportedly contacted a member of the family she was supposedly hiding from when she arrived in the Netherlands, maintained contact with her father, and appeared quite openly in a documentary within her first year in the Netherlands--after she got her citizenship. She had told leaders of her political party that she lied on her application, but she probably didn't reveal the extent of the deception, otherwise her party wouldn't have promoted her as a survivor of wars in Somalia that occurred when she was actually safe in Kenya. It's no wonder Hirsi Ali hasn't tried to fight to keep her citizenship. People are deported from the Netherlands for far smaller lies on their applications. The woman who oversees immigration is a member of her own party, and takes a hard line on immigration.

The author says it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Hirsi Ali is being used as a scapegoat. On the contrary, the author doesn't provide the slightest evidence for that idea, or the harebrained explanation she gives of it.

The rest of the piece doesn't appear to be any more fact-based than the part about Hirsi Ali. Very few specifics are given to back the author's broad, smelly claims, and those that are given seem likely to be taken out of context or false. I don't think it's worth my time to check them out, given her performance in the part I did check out.

Just how is it that multiculturalism and minority rights have destroyed the moral compass of Europe? Are Britain and Europe really systematically appeasing all minorities? What does this appeasement amount to? Allowing them to participate in the democratic process? What would the author prefer? What is the nature of this "religious war" the author thinks is going on? What portion of Islam is involved in it?

I don't see any evidence for the idea that Hirsi Ali won't be accepted by the Left because she isn't saying what they expect from a black woman. There are far better reasons not to accept her. I don't mind a bit that Alan Keyes is a black Republican. He's just wrong in so many ways that have nothing to do with his color, like so many other Republicans, and so is Hirsi Ali. If the American Enterprise Institute is smart, it will "spin off" Hirsi Ali before she gets her name painted on her office door. I doubt they're that smart. She'll play well for a while to those who have unreasonable hatred for Muslims and other minorities but are afraid to be open about it themselves. Eventually that will show through for what it is, and she for who she is, and the Institute will be discredited along with her.

Andrew Brown said...

But this is, you know, "Mad" Mel Phillips, a woman who cannot inhale without outrage or exhale without hyperbole. She does find things that are importantly wrong, but very seldom are they as wrong as she claims and I would always be suspicious of someone who finds that all their opponents are morally bankrupt.

In this particular instance, I don't think you can say that the Muslim Brotherhood is at the heart of the administration. There is an influential and rather sinister group, the Muslim Council of Britain, which has been influential and has advised the Home Office; there has also been a backlash against them since the 7/7 bombings. Anyone who talks about "appeasement" in this context has got their metaphors in a a twist. An enormous amount of being nice to visible minorities is just the Blairite equivalent of Bush pandering to his base: it's symbolic politics which energises some of his supporters.

I think that Melanie Phillips wants there to be no Muslim influence in British politics, and you can't reach that state without a programme of mass deportation, cleansing, etc. Short of that, we have a choice between different sorts of Muslim influences, and all the traditional weapons of the ruling class: force agais the followers, co-option and corruption, and so on.

no time for more. Must work.

H. E. said...

Why the animus, I wonder, here and in various other places where Hirsi Ali is being discussed?

I've been following her for the past year now in connection with the multiculturalism book I'm doing. She's certainly highly critical of Islam generally makes her case in a in a decent way, doesn't bash Muslims, has constructive proposals, etc.--here is an example. Compare this to, e.g. Mencken's coverage of the Scopes Monkey Trial, his cheap shots and utter contempt for conservative Christians.

So the puzzle to me is why is she drawing this much fire--from people one would expect to be sympathetic? Why isn't there a great body of feminists, humanists and friends of the Enlightenment cheering her on? Basically, she's making the same point that Susan Okin made in "Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?" Her critique of multiculturalism is in line with what other "public intellectuals," like Salman Rushdie, Richard Thompson Ford and Amartya Sen are saying. So where's the beef? This isn't a rhetorical question: I can conjecture but I'm genuinely puzzled. Is it because she's young, good-looking and well-dressed? Because she's a politician rather than a cloistered academic?

Just how is it that multiculturalism and minority rights have destroyed the moral compass of Europe

As far as this goes, "multiculturalism" is not the same thing as "minority rights" insofar as one construes the latter as individual rights for members of minorities rather than special "group rights" aimed at accommodating the cultural practices of immigrant groups. Different European countries have adopted different policies which they're now reexamining and there's an emerging consensus that the multicultural model, of distinct cultural communities that interact without coalescing, is problematic. There's also a serious moral dilemma insofar as accommodating cultural practices undermines individual rights--particularly the rights of women.

Maybe, it's the fact that she's a public, political figure saying this stuff. Within the small world of Academia, or let's say Greater Academia including also journalists and literati, we're allowed to be critical and to argue for positions that fall between the cracks, while out in the Real World of politics, the public schools, etc. we have to rehearse the conventional wisdom to avoid confusing hoi polloi. Here for example in Stanford linguistics professor John McWhorter--whose pop linguistic book The Power of Babel is a highly recommended wonderful read--explaining why he's fed up with the term "African-American" and the whole business that goes along with it:

Living descendants of slaves in America neither knew their African ancestors nor even have elder relatives who knew them. Most of us worship in Christian churches. Our cuisine is more southern U.S. than Senegalese....A working-class black man in Cincinnati has more in common with a working-class white man in Providence than with a Ghanaian.

Can you imagine what would happen if he expressed these sentiments to his kid's elementary school teacher, teaching a unit on Africocentric history to boost the self-esteem of her African-American students or running a Kwanza celebration? There's a sense that in the public world certain pieties have to be maintained

H. E. said...

"Inhales outrage, exhales hyperbole"--I'm going to have a tee-shirt made for myself with that motto. (I used to have one that said "Nasty, brutish and short")

Things are just very different in the US where there's much more talk about multiculturalism and much less real multiculturalism. The melting pot works. There's also no serious difference in the "values" or religious convictions of immigrant groups here--Mexicans (and Philipinos) are just plain old Latin Catholics, Italians on steroids, who are assimilating as fast every other group of immigrants.

I don't understand what the "Muslim influence in British politics" is that gets up Mad Mel's nose. The US is just very different so I'm limited here, trying to understand the dynamic in the UK, and in European countries, better. I suppose I see Europe as an object lesson for the US--don't ask for multiculturalism: you might just get it. Just speaking from inside the American experience with my possibly eccentric take on it, I assume that most immigrants want to assimilate and will if given the chance, that we should both adopt more generous policies on immigration and make more aggressive efforts to facilitate assimilation. For all that's bad about the US we have a very good thing going here and should be generous, not merely by providing economic opportunities but by welcoming immigrants into our culture. They don't just want jobs and money--they want to be American.

Sanpete said...

HE, I share your interest in the psychological causes of people's beliefs and attitudes about controversial points and people. The psychology is often of more import than the arguments. What you say about multiculturalism, and about this op-ed piece and my response to it, raises this question in my own mind: why the animus to multiculturalism? More to the particulars at hand, why do you keep referring to "real multiculturalism" and mean by it what Sen is careful to call "plural monoculturalism"? Who defends that in any strong sense? There is an element of straw man in your general attack on multiculturalism (including when you assimilate it to Bush's immigration policy). Multiculturalism is actually far more reasonable and defensible than you make it out to be.

A related question: why do you find find it mysterious why Hirsi Ali stirs such strong reactions, and then overlook the most obvious answers in favor of fairly weak hypotheses about her age, appearance and so on? I should first point out that I don't think what I wrote shows any particularly strong animus against Hirsi Ali. I feel no more strongly about her than many other opinion leaders who I think are wrong-headed in some way or other. My strong animus was directed to Melanie Phillips, who apparently richly deserves it.

I pointed out two of the most obvious reasons for the strong dislike among many for Hirsi Ali. One, she has been intentionally insulting to Muslims, and that is her reputation. That she is also capable of being more careful and fair in her expression doesn't change the fact that she is most well known for other remarks and for writing the screenplay for Submission, which isn't measured and fair. Two, relating to more recent affairs, it appears she is caught in major lies and hypocrisy. She has taken advantage of the liberal immigration policies of the Netherlands, fraudulently, and appears to have lied even to her own party leaders about it. What I didn't bother to point out (since my focus was on Phillips) but you probably know, she has at the same time argued for more restrictions on immigration. It appears that had she been honest she wouldn't have met her own criteria for entry.

If you want another reason, one that you've touched on, though not in a way I could follow completely, Hirsi Ali's target is a group about whom there is great ferment at the moment, and people rightly feel it counterproductive to pour fuel on the fire needlessly. How criticism is carried out matters even more than usual in this case.

I wouldn't defend Mencken in his treatment of the Scopes Trial either.

McWhorter's critique of "African-American" has been expressed by many from the beginning of its use. It isn't inflammatory in the way some of Hirsi Ali's attacks have been.

Sanpete said...

Oh, I meant to thank Andrew for his comments. They bear on parts of the op-ed piece that I don't know much about that seemed suspicious.

H. E. said...

Dumb of me to have picked Phillips article. I wanted to say something about Hirsi Ali, whom I admire, and just googled to find an article to link as an excuse. I should have read more carefully. I'd never even heard of Phillips before.

But, fair question about my animus against multiculturalism. I grew up in Northern New Jersey--Sopranos country--which was authentically multicultural in the worst sense. There were ethnic no-go areas, everyone was tagged as a member of some ethnic group, if only English-German-Jewish-Italian or some such hybrid, everyone bloc-voted for members of their ethnic group, no one trusted anyone outside their tribe or trusted anyone much beyond their extended family, politics was thoroughly corrupt, the Mob ran unions, construction, garbage collection and the numbers racket at every candy store. This was the tribal system and the fundamental theorem was, "you take care of your own." (and the corollaries were: you can expect others to screw you over and you have no obligation to anyone other than your own and everything is just a racket).

When I went away to school in the Midwest I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Everything was clean, open, and official--and free. People trusted one another and were public spirited. There weren't ethnic no-go areas, or 1000 unwritten rules to negotiate. So it really vexed me when my chums lamented the "white bread" homogeneity and romanticized all that wonderful, warm, colorful ethnicity. I suppose I'm far enough away now to see the appeal of it as a fantasy. The reality though is just bloody, beastly, stinking awful.

Of course professed multiculturalists don't want that reality--they want ethnic food and cute ethnic festivals and the stuff of what Stanley Fish calls "boutique multiculturalism." That much is harmless. But if a commitment to multiculturalism affects policy, if it discourages assimilation, and promotes a tribal system like the one I knew it's a disaster for everyone, most of all the "ethnically diverse" people who will be locked into the system. People who haven't experienced the real thing, really experienced the real thing, simply don't understand how dangerous playing at multiculturalism can be.

I know that AHA wants more restrictions on immigration--I disagree about that. But I agree with the critique of multiculturalism and with her critique of Islamic culture. People need to get it rubbed in over and over as long as it takes that some cultures are just lousy, that you aren't doing people any favors by locking them into these lousy cultures and that everyone should have a real chance to get out from these stinking cultures--as I did, and she did.

Sanpete said...

Since you intended this to be about Hirsi Ali and not Melanie Phillips, I'll say a little about Hirsi Ali's more moderate comments that you linked to. It appears she won't accept yes for an answer.

An argument often heard in defence of Islam is that the cruel treatment of Muslim women is not so much the outcome of the Qur' an and hadith as God originally meant them to be, as a narrow and opportunistic abuse of these holy sources by men in patriarchal societies. This argument is not convincing because Islam was founded by a man in a patriarchal society. Islam is a tribal religion, founded under tribal conditions and a moral framework whereby those virtues held high in the Arab tribe are made divine.

In other words, judging from what she says here, she won't join with those who would fight for a progressive version of Islam that respects women the way she would prefer but still maintains the divine origin of Islam. That isn't about women's rights. It's about showing Islam is wrong, revenge, anger, whatever.

Her argument there seems to overlook what some of the Islamic progressives intend. Their point is that precisely because Islam came about in patriarchal times, it was more patriarchal than God would have wished (the idea being that God can or will only intercede to a point). This is the same view progressive Christians and Jews take of their scriptures. A similar line of thought is applied by progressives to the US Constitution, which has a status as a kind of secular scripture. They argue that the principles underlying and even expressed in the Constitution weren't fully realized at the time because of the social conditions, but that those principles are what should guide us in applying the document. Rather than promoting this line of thought in Islam, Hirsi Ali argues with its proponents. How helpful is she really?

On your own views, I think you'd find it difficult to show that it's the principles or implications of multiculturalism that led to the things you so disliked about New Jersey. For one thing, though you insist on calling what you describe "multiculturalism," it isn't. It's plural monoculturalism. You'll make it all too easy to dismiss what you say if you publish a book about multiculturalism that confounds these or calls one by the name of the other. It seems you want to argue that anything more than "boutique multiculturalism" will lead to the same problems as plural monoculturalism to some degree or other, but you don't make any argument to show that, and it's far from obvious that it will do so in a way that's more harmful than helpful. If you want to argue against multiculturalism and not merely plural monoculturalism (which few would defend anyway except in marginal ways), you'll need to show or at least give plausible arguments that the benefits of multiculturalism as it's promoted by mainstream multiculturalists are outweighed by the costs. I doubt that's true, but it seems to me to be what you would need to give arguments for. You would have to sort out causation carefully.

You may suffer from something similar to what seems to afflict Hirsi Ali. You were both traumatized (perhaps speaking loosely in your case) by your childhood experience of your culture, and the result is that you tend to overreact, seeing things more in extremes than is justified, and lashing out beyond the mark. For example, you vastly underestimate the value of culture and, it seems to me, overestimate the burdens. I see this all the time with former Mormons, who are unable to see past their anger at the Church and consequently have distorted views of it and what should be done in regard to it. Many of them make things worse instead of better. Just a thought.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

Martin from Wi[s]se Words has the best lefty reaction to Hirsi Ali that I've read.

Like sanpete said, the progressive backlash against Ali is rooted in her anti-immigration hypocrisy. If she were simply an outspoken anti-clerical feminist, nobody would really care whether she fudged her immigration papers. In fact, she would probably have a spate of progressive defenders saying, as Martin did in his post, that the standards she subverted were racist and arbitrary anyway.

The irritating thing about Ali was her "I've got mine, screw you" attitude towards other potential immigrants.

H. E. said...

OK, Sanpete, and this isn't a rhetorical question: what is the tertium quid you call "multiculturalism" that isn't either "boutique multiculturalism" or plural monoculturalism? In the book I discuss at some length the difference between 4 different items that get called "multiculturalism": (1) support for multiethnic societies where there are no genetic tests for full citizenship and equal treatment; (2) respect for different cultures as such; (3) boutique multiculturalism; and (4) plural monoculturalism. I make it clear that it's the last that I'm arguing against. I'm also skeptical about (2): some cultures are better than others in the sense that they're more conducive to the wellbeing of people who live within them.

Here is a link to the rough draft of the book so far--currently a long essay: Against Diversity: The Liberal Case Against Multiculturalism. I be very grateful for comments!

Lindsay, I appreciate the popular perception that Hirsi Ali is opposed to immigration and is now being hoist by her own petard. But that is not the position she took. The idea is that immigrants are welcome only if they are willing and able to assimilate.

Now that's a line the right has used to exclude immigrants and politically "assimilation" has become a code word for "white only." So it's hard within the political arena to find a perch if you hold that what matters is assimilation, not skin color. As a (Jewish) friend I was just talking to noted, it's like being critical of Israeli policies gets you tagged as an anti-semite.

Maybe, de facto, insisting on assimilation will mean fewer immigrants; maybe it won't. That's an empirical question. The aim in any case is not to exclude immigrants but to promote assimilation. This isn't "I've got mine, screw you." It's "I've rejected my lousy ancestral culture and bought into being Dutch--if you aren't willing to do that you don't belong here." The issue is multiculturalism--the idea that affluent Western countries should tolerate "communities" of immigrants perpetuating their garbage cultures in their midst.

Sanpete said...

I'm not sure what day the new posts showed up, so I may be late in replying.

I should point out that I'm no expert on the philosophical debate on multiculturalism, that I'm basing my remarks about what multiculturalism is mainly on how the term is used in more practical contexts. I'll take a look at your ms and will send comments, but I'll go ahead and try to answer your question and give a few comments on what you say here.

The kind of multiculturalism that most people I'm aware of who favor "multiculturalism" favor is not salad bowl and not "boutique." I used the metaphor of a hearty soup; others have suggested a stew. It involves compromise between keeping/encouraging cultural distinctness and assimilation, with a goal of having a good mix of the two. I haven't read Fish and have relied on your characterization of "boutique" multiculturalism, along with what its name suggests. It seems to be superficial, and I assume Fish intended it to be, or he would have called it something else. I think most multiculturalists favor a deeper form of cultural respect, preservation and support, alongside incentives and even some requirements for assimilation. This includes, for example, making allowances for Muslims to practice their faith without penalties, as long as this is done consistently with US law.

Here are some initial questions to chew on, some of which I've mentioned before. Why, given the various ways you acknowledge the term is used, do you use "multiculturalism" in such an extreme manner? How many people actually defend plural monoculturalism in any strong sense? Is there even one major multiculturalist who defends it without major qualifications? Explaining how you use the term is good, but you'll still bring yourself unnecessary trouble if you highjack a word that has a respectable and well established mainstream meaning and then make it seem bad by treating it in an extreme way. Why not just use the term "plural monoculturalism"? What do you lose by using the more precise term?

I'll give this analogy, which may not be totally exact, but which will get across my concerns. I might write a book criticizing faith practices that rely on physical coercion. I might title my book Against Coercion: The Liberal Case Against Religion. In beginning my book I might explain that by "religion" I mean only really serious religion, that which is willing to rely even on physical coercion. Will that justify my using the term in such a narrow and extreme way? It will suggest that I really have a grudge against religion in general, and that I wish to reflect a bad light on all of it, not merely that which involves physical coercion. And people who are religious will rightly complain of my use of the word, with the likely result that attention will be drawn more to side issues than to the ostensible subject of my book.

I wonder if what you oppose is really only plural monoculturalism. If it is, are you arguing against anyone important these days? Do you really want to argue instead against elements of more grey forms of multiculturalism, where most multiculturalists are? In that case, broad arguments against extreme multiculturalism may not serve. You may have to treat issues within multiculturalism in terms of their own specifics.

I've looked a bit at the beginning of your book and see what seem to me to be tone problems of the kind that show up here in a term like "garbage cultures." You use the analogy of a physical disease or injury in making your point about cultural relativism. Using a term like "garbage culture" suggests that, in terms of your analogy, you would treat a diseased leg or vital organ as "garbage" and discard it rather than accepting what virtues may reside in it and trying to preserve and enhance those while seeking to make it whole. Is that how you regard Islamic, Hindu, Indian and African cultures? Your expression suggests your thinking on this is polarized.

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