Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Realism in International Relations

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an interesting character. Shaped by circumstances she encountered growing up in Somalia and her subsequent career in the Netherlands, she is a vocal critic of Islam (her memoir is titled Infidel). In today's article in the Wall Street Journal, she draws upon the body of her previous works (and raises the flag of Samuel Huntington in the process) when she says that we should recognize the civilizational divide between Islam and the West, and forget any illusions about a so-called "one world" for everybody. As a result, she argues that the West should counter the active propaganda of radical Islam with its own.

I have two problems with her thesis. Her premise and her conclusion. She presupposes that the behavior of Turkey and other supposedly Muslim-moderate countries does not hew to the One World script of secular liberal democracies. As an example, she cites Turkey's support for the aid flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the rumblings within the Turkish corridors of power of going back to their Ottoman heydays. Wait, there's more. Malaysia and Indonesia are also clamoring for Islamic law in their countries. Her conclusion therefore is that since the Saudi sheikhs have been spreading oil dollars around promoting their brand of Islam, the West should do something in order to actively promote their civilization.

Is it always easier to find things that divide than is shared? Perhaps. Is a prescription to just look at the world for what it is, rather than what it should be more practical? Sure. But that doesn't really get us very far in terms of human progress doesn't it? Hirsi Ali forgets to mention that these countries - Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, are not monolithic entities. Not very much unlike Islam, too. Or the West for that matter. What does she mean exactly by it? Surely the French or Swiss approach to religion differs greatly from that of the United States. I suspect that Hirsi Ali's problem is with religion in general, though that's for another post. It seems counterproductive for the West to engage in a marketing war against radical Islam. In this war of ideas, a tolerant and liberal West (whoever might fall under this category) should be promotion enough.

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