In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof criticized strongly Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the unbelievably brave Somali intellectual who has dedicated her career to pursuit of an Enlightenment in the Islamic world. Kristof apparently sees Ali as fomenting bigotry towards Muslims, casting aside the very legitimate and pressing criticism of the fastest growing religion that Ali posits.
Kristof has shown himself before to be more dedicated to political correctness than pointing out evil in the world. He may be more consistent in his P.C. attitude than the average liberal, as evidenced by an article from May called “More to Catholic Church than Vatican’s old boys club.” In it, he puts in full effort to be touchy-feely and offend absolutely no one:
Yet if the top of the church has strayed from its roots, much of its base is still deeply inspiring. I came here to impoverished southern Sudan to write about Sudanese problems, not the Catholic Church’s. Yet, once again, I am awed that so many of the selfless people serving the world’s neediest are lowly nuns and priests — notable not for the grandeur of their vestments, but for the grandness of their compassion.
As I’ve noted before, there seem to be two Catholic Churches, the old boys’ club of the Vatican and the grass-roots network of humble priests, nuns and laity in places like Sudan. The Vatican certainly supports many charitable efforts, and some bishops and cardinals are exemplary, but overwhelmingly it’s at the grass roots that I find the great soul of the Catholic Church.
Reading that, I’m left thinking of the open-ended question, left largely unanswered, by Christopher Hitchens about religion – What act of philanthropy has been made by a religious organization that couldn’t have been done by a secular organization? If both the Catholic Church and Islam are corrupt and oppressive at their very core, which there seems to be quite a bit of evidence for, the fact that many very wonderful people identify with those religions is fairly meaningless, especially considering that religions are more often part of someone’s heritage and not something they sought out independently.
In his review of Ali’s book Nomad, Kristof accuses Ali of “religious bigotry” that leaves him “uncomfortable and exasperated.” Bigotry is certainly something I am not a fan of, but a quick definition of bigotry from Wikipedia shows a bigot to be “person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” Seeing as Ali spent much of her life as a Muslim, escaped from an arranged marriage and cannot speak with any of her family members without having them clamoring for her to return to Islam, it is the height of confusion to label Ali a bigot and then call for some sort of enlightened condescension to a religion whose holy book provides chunks of feminist wisdom such as “I looked into Paradise and I saw that the majority of its people were the poor. And I looked into Hell and I saw that the majority of its people are women.”
In his criticism of Ali, Kristof disgustingly says “she never quite outgrew her rebellious teenager phase.” This is beyond reprehensible. To be a rebellious teenager in an environment of religious orthodoxy takes a courage that Kristof appears to be a stranger to. Kristof is a well traveled man, certainly more than myself, but seems to have a naivety about the close-minded nature of the extremely religiously dedicated (and, being a faith that requires you to pray five times a day, travel from any destination in the world to Mecca in order for pilgrimage and potentially give up your life, Islam makes Christianity look like a part time gig).
Kristof either never really looked inquisitively into Islam or is in denial. I once dated a beautiful woman from Saudi Arabia. Though she no longer wore the hijab, the mystic parochialism of her home country still haunted her. She had been sexually terrorized in her past and still carried with her a depth of depression over not being able to be with a past lover who had been a member of a different clan. (She said quite frankly of her experience, “our culture sucked.”) Though we spent a lot of time together, she would make efforts not to be seen with me in areas where there were a good deal of Muslims (though there are many white Muslims, it would be really hard to claim me as anything but kafir).
While it is disappointing that the rigidness of political correctness has caused Kristof to suspend reality, there are heartening laments from other liberals in the media. Bill Maher has been very welcoming to Ali, calling her a “hero” and was unrelenting in the absolutely ridiculous response by radical Muslims to an episode of South Park portraying the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit.
Liberals would be wise to realize that Islam being a religion primarily of third world people of color doesn’t endow it with some nobility not afforded the Christian faith of midwestern and southern white Americans. This soft racism may sound a whole lot better than the hard racism that still pops up in all cultures, but in the long run is just as destructive and a threat toward liberalism.