US magazine, Newsweek, stokes some controversy this week with its cover story and article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali on ‘Muslim Rage,’ dealing with the protests that have been taking place in Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia in reaction to the YouTube video ‘Innocence of Muslims’. Hirsi Ali criticises the ‘Western’ response to the protests as the “incoherent tendency to simultaneously defend free speech—and to condemn its results,” argues that the protestors “represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam,” and articulates a view on how, faced with ‘The Last Gasp of Islamic Hate’ we can end it.
Hirsi Ali, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in Newsweek:
“It is a strange and bitter coincidence that the latest eruption of violent Islamic indignation takes place just as Salman Rushdie publishes his new book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, about his life under the fatwa.
“In 23 years not much has changed.
“Islam’s rage reared its ugly head again last week. The American ambassador to Libya and three of his staff members were murdered by a raging mob in Benghazi, Libya, possibly under the cover of protests against a film mocking the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.”
Writing on the transition to democracy underway in North Africa, Hirsi Ali states:
“Will they follow the lead of the Egyptian people and elect a government that stands for ideals diametrically opposed to those upheld by the United States? They might. But if they do, we should not consider them stupid or infantile. We should recognize that they have made a free choice—a choice to reject freedom as the West understands it.”
Is it accurate or fair to represent the views of the Muslim Brotherhood, Eygpt’s governing party as ‘stand[ing] for ideals diametrically opposed to those upheld by the United States’? Was it a reflection of ideals diametrically opposed to those upheld by the United States that led President Morsi during his visit to Brussels last week to speak of his commitment to “upholding democratic values and freedoms, several times stressing his commitment to respect the equality of all Egyptians, with no distinction between Muslims and Copts, and equal rights for women.”
"We will move forward from corruption and dictatorship to a new phase of freedom for all, of democracy for all, of guaranteeing rights for all Egyptians," Morsi said, in a report published by Middle East Online regarding the visit.
Hirsi Ali’s description of the political parties that have come to dominate the countries of the Arab Spring harks back to the lazy, trite assumptions made of them by those determined to peddle falsehoods over facts.
She goes on:
“If the U.S. follows the example of Europe over the last two decades, it will bend over backward to avoid further offense. And that would be a grave mistake—for the West no less than for those Muslims struggling to build a brighter future.”
It is noteworthy that Hirsi Ali is mentioned in Breivik’s manifesto among a roll-call of Islamophobes that popularize the myth of ‘Eurabia’ and ‘Islamification’. Breivik, like Hirsi Ali, believed that European elites were too timid in the face of a 'Muslim takeover' and referred to them as 'multiculturalist traitors'.
Hirsi Ali contends that the protestors represent the majority of their countries, not an aggrieved, violent minority:
“The Muslim men and women (and yes, there are plenty of women) who support—whether actively or passively—the idea that blasphemers deserve to suffer punishment are not a fringe group. On the contrary, they represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam.
But as Gianluca Mezzofiore draws attention to in his critique of the Newsweek cover story:
“Megan Reif, assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado Denver, has compiled a spread sheet comparing the crowds involved in the so-called Arab Spring and those which have congregated for the current protests.
“The result is that the percentages involved in the anti-American incidents are much smaller than those in the Arab uprising in their respective countries. The author also noted that the deaths involved in the so-called Arab Spring were much higher.”
“Fleshing out some of the data available, John Hudson produced an interactive map of the protests so far. It is important to notice not only that the violent protests appeared in the countries that have experienced political violence over the last year or so (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen), but also that the three countries with the largest Muslim population in the world - Indonesia, Pakistan and India - have seen no violence and a few protests.
“There are also vast areas of the Muslim world that did not protest at all. That includes sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, Russia, China and the US.
“To quote Max Fisher, associate editor at The Atlantic, "the fact that these enormous populations -- 76 million Muslims in Nigeria, 75 million in Turkey, 29 million in Ethiopia, and so on -- across dozens of countries are not protesting shows the extent to which violent protests are the exceptions rather than the norm".”
Hirsi Ali’s tendentious claims of the “ideals of the rule of law, freedom of thought, worship and expression” as being the hallmarks of all that characterizes the West and what the Muslim world must move towards will no doubt invite challenging rejoinders from those that have catalogued the extraordinary renditions that the US has sanctioned and cases of complicity in torture; the “freedom of thought and worship” so marvelously illustrated in the witch-hunts against Muslim public servants in the US, and the disdain shown towards the Qur’an and Afghan civilians by small numbers of US troops serving in Afghanistan, not to mention the rampant Islamophobia in America’s public discourse that is the subject of the Fear Inc, report. On the shifting sands of “freedom of expression” Glen Greenwald on Comment is Free has posted a fascinating article.
For a comical take on Hirsi Ali’s vexatious article, have a read of the humorous tweets it has attracted here.