Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Looking for Home in the Islamic Diaspora of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Azar Nafisi, and Khaled Hosseini

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Looking for Home in the Islamic Diaspora of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Azar Nafisi, and Khaled Hosseini

Article excerpt

On November 8, 2007, Anglo-Dutch writer Ian Buruma delivered a lecture titled "Islamist Radicalism in Europe."1 His claim: moderate Muslim thinkers are the key to diffusing a potentially explosive politics of radical religious separatism in Europe. A small but powerful minority of Islamic radicals resides in Europe, according to Buruma, and they remain an unassimilated and thus, dangerous force to be reckoned with. He cites the 2004 slaying of Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, as evidence of this Islamist radicalism. Van Gogh's 2004 film Submission exposed the psychological and physical violence levied against women in Islamic societies, and it was in response to this production that Islamic-Dutch citizen, Mohammed Bouyeri murdered Van Gogh as retribution for his critique of Islam.2

Buruma suggests two paths for suturing what he reads as an ever-growing divide between mainstream Europe (and the Western world at large) and its radical Islamic minority. The one lies with Ayaan Hirsi Ali (script-writer for Van Gogh's Submission). A self-proclaimed ex-Muslim, Ali represents for Buruma the radical alternative to radical Islam - renunciation. She is, thus, not the "icon" he would select for keeping what he calls "non- violent Muslim minorities in favor of Western secular democracy"3 Rather, he posits so-called moderate thinker Tariq Ramadan as the optimal symbol of moderate Islamic, pro- Western thought. Buruma argues that it is precisely Ramadan's embodiment of "moderate" Islam that makes him a sound solution to the increasingly dangerous divide between mainstream Europe and its radical Islamic minority. Where Hirsi Ali is, for Buruma, a risky figure because she renounced Islam, Ramadan represents a "middle road," a pragmatic alternative that encompasses both Orthodox Islam and a pro- Western politics. Buruma champions him as the salve for an ailing political/religious situation in Europe.

Just one month later, on December 7, 2007, Ayaan Hirsi Ali published an editorial in the New York Times under the title, "Islam's Silent Moderates."4 She defines Islam's "Moderates" by invoking their opposite, the "Radicals." According to Ali, the "Radicals" constitute proponents of Islamic justice. She cites the case of a twenty-year-old Saudi Arabian woman who was abducted and raped by several men, only to be sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes by bamboo cane. The rape-victim's crime? "Mingling," or the association with a male unrelated by blood or marriage.5 Saudi Arabia's enforcement of sharia (Islamic law) marks it, in Hirsi Ali's eyes, a radical Islamist state against which "moderate" Islamic thinkers should rally. "But where are the moderates?" asks Ali:

Where are the Muslim voices raised over the temblé injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say... that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal, and bigoted- and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?6

Hirsi Ali is no Boazian or Herskovitzian relativist. She writes, "We in the West would be wrong. . .to elevate cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life."7 According to her, then, the job of a "moderate" Islamic thinker is to resist the temptation of cultural relativism, to dare to declare Western democratic law morally superior to Saudi Arabian sharia} Ali closes her opinion piece with an invocation of Tariq Ramadan: "I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan."9 Ironically, both Buruma (who writes Ali off as an extremist because she renounced Islam) and Ali invoke the "moderation" of Ramadan in the name of bridging the non-violent/radical, Western/non- Western Islamic divide. There is, then, on the part of both Buruma and Ali, an attempt to negotiate diasporic Islam's relationship to the "West" as both a geographical region and an ideological influence. …

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