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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 11 page 21


You can trace a vector from Wahhabism to organizations such as al Qaeda and Daesh, ludicrously striving to restore the caliphate of the 7th and 8th centuries. In many respects the trend in the Muslim world today — Hirsi Ali admits as much — is more hardline and intolerant than ever. In some countries or parts thereof, you dare not skip your prayers. You dare not step outside without your beard on. Or kerchief, as the case may be.

Islamic religious fundamentalism can be understood, incidentally, as a means of erecting barriers against contamination from the West.

For Hirsi Ali, modernity is Western, rational, analytical, democratic, and industrious — everything Islam is not. It’s hard to avoid the thought that she is less concerned with the health of Islam than with encouraging Muslims to follow her own path into a Western-style post-religious world. Islam then would have to content itself with being just one belief system in the global marketplace of ideas. A long-term consequence of the European Enlightenment, surely, has been the steady demise of Christianity. The Bible and Jesus have been subject to increasingly incisive analysis from the 19th century, to the point where both the Old and New Testaments have been reduced to propaganda tracts while Jesus has plummeted from savior son-of-God status to being a two-bit rabble-rouser.

Hirsi Ali marshals decent scholarship in support of a well-articulated argument, no doubt about that. At the same time, she has a knack for popular journalism, moving at a good clip and providing lots of real-life examples. This may seem odd, but altho I found this book informative and thought-provoking I nevertheless found myself hoping that not a lot of people read it. No matter how many times Hirsi Ali tells us how peaceful the vast majority of Muslims are, her thesis about violence being embedded in the Qur’an and other Islamic scriptures cannot help but make you uneasy. It is a sort of sensationalism that had to be counterbalanced by glimpses of how most Muslims read and understand the Qur’an, but it wasn’t.

Just in time before her book runs out of pages, Hirsi Ali asserts her confidence that an Islamic Reformation is just around the corner. The Arab Spring of a few years past may have been a flop, but it sparked a new spirit of rebellion, she says. Hirsi Ali doesn't say what I most wished to hear, that there are notable conclaves overhauling the scriptures to edit out the bloodlust. And I also note the depressing fact that if you are a freethinking blogger in Bangladesh there is a good chance you will be assassinated in short order. The good news, apparently, is that ideas and debate are percolating thru the vast internet. The number of heretics is growing.