March 13, 2008

Chris Hedges on Ayaan Hirsi-Ali and Islam

I came across an interview tonight with Chris Hedges, former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times and author of the recently published book, I Don't Believe in Atheists. Chris made two points that I thought were worth repeating:

You say at one point in the book that the New Atheists, "like Christian fundamentalists, are stunted products of a self-satisfied, materialistic middle class." But I wonder what you would say to someone like Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, a victim of genital cutting who fled her faith-based homeland for the secular West, when she says that the secularism of Western society is better than the religiosity of her native Somalia?

It was better, for her.

She doesn't qualify that. She says it's better.

Well, she's speaking out of her personal experience, and it was better for her. I mean, look, I covered conflicts in Africa, in the Middle East, and in Central America, where Western society rained nothing but death and destruction on tens of thousands of people, which is of course what we're doing in Iraq. So, is Western society -- American society -- better for Iraqis? And I think part of the problem is people who create a morality based on their own experience, which is what of course the New Atheists and the Christian fundamentalists have done.

Chris makes an excellent point here. One of the biggest problems with Islamophobes is that they rely heavily upon the hasty generalization (the fallacy of the insufficient sample, leaping to a conclusion, what have you). "If Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, who hates Islam, says that Islam must be such-and-such, then it must be true." They base their "morality," such as it is, upon the sandy soil of one person's experience.

I want to go back to what you see as the ultimate threat of the New Atheists and the Christian right. You voice concern in the book that these two groups of fundamentalists are going to gang up, "to call for a horrific bloodletting and apocalyptic acts of terror..."

It's a possibility. I mean, I covered al-Qaida for the New York Times. There wasn't an intelligence chief who I interviewed who didn't talk about another catastrophic attack on American soil as inevitable. They never used the word "if." They just used the word "when," and if this kind of rhetoric, which is racist, is allowed to infect the civil discourse -- whether it comes from the Christian right or the New Atheists -- toward Muslims, who are one-fifth of the world population, most of whom are not Arabs, then what I worry about is that in a moment of collective humiliation and fear, these two strands come together and call for an assault on Muslims, both outside our gates and on the 6 million Muslims who live within our borders. And that frightens me, that demonization of a people -- turning human beings into abstractions, so that they're not human anymore. They don't have hopes, dreams, aspirations, pains, sufferings. They represent an unmitigated evil that must be vanquished. That's very scary, and that is at the bedrock of the ideology of the New Atheists as it is with the Christian fundamentalists.

All I can ask my fellow Muslims is, "Are you not surprised?"


Anonymous said...

Is the Islamic threat to the world really so great that Christian fundamentalists and dogmatic atheists would need to unite against it, as Churchill and Stalin united against Hitler?

I don't think so, even if they do...

Anonymous said...

Another question I forgot to ask - do you think the New Atheists are hostile to all religion, or only to the Abrahamic faiths?

JDsg said...

George: I certainly don't think so; I think most people have become hysterical based upon ignorance. They know relatively little about Islam, in general they have little or no desire to learn about Islam, and if they are interested in Islam they visit Islamophobic websites and blogs that pander to their prejudices. Hedges is probably overstating the threat, but it's the attitudes of government officials I'm more concerned about (and many of these people are not the best and brightest, who would have found work in the private sector otherwise). (I've worked in enough government offices to know. ;) )

With respect to your second question, I think that the New Atheists are hostile to all religion in principle. However, because the "New Atheists" seems to be primarily a Western phenomenon (you don't really see or hear about any New Atheists here in Asia, for example), I think the primary hostility is to the Abrahamic faiths.

Rob Wagner said...

I think Hedges is spot on. Every time Christians trot out people like Ayaan Hirsi-Ali or Wafa Sultan to preach the evils of Islam it brings us closer to a unnecessary confrontation. The haters refuse to look beyond the motives of Hirsi-Ali (personal experience) and Sultan (a bid for fame) because it is inconvenient to their argument. It's the Western habit to demonize a specific group of people or nation to rally the public around a cause, no matter how unjust. In this case the Bush administration demonized Islam. The unfortunate consequence is that the genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to stuff it back it. Sooner or later there must be an outlet for the West's hysteria, and eventually it will be turned on the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Tragic and dire as that may sound, it's a possibility if cooler heads don't prevail.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure that the primary hostility isn't to the Abrahamic faiths because those are the strongest religions Darwinistically speaking?

The pagan Roman empire persecuted Christians for centuries without success, and Christianity eventually utterly destroyed paganism in Europe.

Zoroastrianism came close to utter destruction at the hands of Islam.
South East Asia, formerly Buddhist or Hindu, is now mostly Muslim.

JDsg said...

Rob: Sooner or later there must be an outlet for the West's hysteria, and eventually it will be turned on the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.

This is certainly a possibility, insha'allah, but I'm not convinced. I keep waiting for the Islamophobia to fade away, sort of like a bad fad. The American attention span what it is, I'm surprised the hate against Islam and Muslims have lasted this long. If the Dems take the White House in November (and Congress as well), I'm hoping that within a year after that everything will cool down, insha'allah. But I agree with you and Hedges, the possibility's there, and this would not be a good time for Muslims to put down their guard.

George: Are you sure that the primary hostility isn't to the Abrahamic faiths because those are the strongest religions Darwinistically speaking?

An interesting thought, but I'm not sure that your analysis is completely right. While I agree that Islam more or less wiped out Zoroastrianism, SE Asia is still very much a Buddhist region. Yes, Muslims do make up the largest religion here (40% per Wikipedia), but 60% is not Muslim: Christian (especially Catholic), Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, you name it. So I'm not convinced that SE Asia, at least, has succumbed to Islam's charms. ;)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I really meant insular South East Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia).

JDsg said...

Among the Malays and, to a much lesser extent, the Indians, you're right. The Hinduism that was prevalent among the Malays in the past was swept away when the Arab and Muslim Indian traders came here. But among other ethnic groups (notably the Chinese) in the countries you mentioned, they remain quite strongly wedded to their own religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism in particular. If a Chinese person converts to an Abrahamic faith here, it's usually Christianity. There are very few Chinese Muslims in this part of the world, and I suspect the reason is because Islam is so much more strict on certain things that appeal to many Chinese (e.g., eating pork, drinking alcohol, and gambling). Still, I don't expect non-Muslims in the southern half of SE Asia to flock to Islam (or Christianity) anytime soon, insha'allah.