Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An Atheist Conservatives Can Embrace

In today's Washington Post, conservative columnist Anne Applebaum bravely rides to the defense of Hirsi Ali, the controversial critic of Islam who is now at the American Enterprise Institute here in the US. Using a familiar move from the conservative playbook, Applebaum tries to paint Hirsi Ali as an unfairly maligned victim of liberal political correctness:
Clearly, there is something about Ayaan Hirsi Ali that annoys, rankles, irritates. I am speaking as one who does not know Hirsi Ali--the outspoken Dutch-Somali critic of Islam--but as one who, while living in Europe, cannot seem to avoid meeting her detractors. Most recently I met a Dutch diplomat who positively glowered when her name was mentioned. As a member of the Dutch parliament, Hirsi Ali had, he complained, switched parties, talked out of turn and refused to toe whatever was the proper political line. Above all, it irritated him that she did not share his Dutch faith in political consensus.
As a First Amendment near-absolutist, I totally support Hirsi Ali's freedom of speech. Of course she is right to condemn the oppression of women fostered by right-wing interpretations of the Koran in many Islamic nations--and from which she personally suffered during her girlhood in Africa and Saudi Arabia. And of course she is and must be free to publicly espouse her current views on religion, culture, and politics. She contributes something unique and valuable to the world of public discourse.

But let's not paint her as an innocent martyr who deserves an unquestioning embrace by everyone in the West merely because she ticks off the Islamists. The nervousness Hirsi Ali creates among many people is not due simply to her failure to toe some political line. This is a woman who admitted lying about her name, birthdate, and personal circumstances on her application for asylum in Holland, facts which normally would require that she be stripped of her Dutch citizenship. She has also zig-zagged all over the political and cultural maps, converting from an Islamist who supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie into an atheist famed for her denunciations of Muhammad (she has called him a "pervert" and a "tyrant"), and publicly defecting from the Dutch Labor Party to the competing WD.

Imagine a former conservative Roman Catholic--a nun, let's say--who not only left the faith but became an outspoken atheist, issuing statements harshly criticizing the personality and morality of Jesus. Let's also imagine that this apostate enters US politics (as an immigrant from abroad, no less) and in mid-career switches from the Democratic Party to the Republicans. Would such a person be considered a tad controversial? I should say.

Nonetheless, Hirsi Ali was granted a special dispensation that allowed to retain her Dutch citizenship, served in the Dutch parliament for three and a half years, and has received a slew of honors and awards: the Prize of Liberty from Nova Civitas, a liberal Flemish think tank; the Freedom Prize from Denmark's Liberal Party; the annual European Bellwether Prize by the Norwegian think tank Human Rights Service; the annual Democracy Prize of the Swedish Liberal People's Party; the Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee, etc. etc. She was named European of the Year by the editors of Reader's Digest and one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential Persons in the World. She has written two widely-praised best-selling books (Infidel and The Caged Virgin) and is working on her next book while ensconced at the AEI.

This doesn't look like the resume of someone who has been shunned for daring to speak her mind.

Hey, don't get me wrong--we liberals like it when conservatives like Anne Applebaum suddenly decide to support freedom of expression, even for controversial views. But I'd appreciate it even more if they would also defend writers and artists who dare to offend Christian sensibilities, not just Islamic ones.

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