Why she is the toast of the intelligentsia and mainstream media
By Amina Mire
Between 2004 and 2005, Ayaan Hirsi Ali received many prestigious national and international awards.
The following are example of the awards received by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (1) One of the Time Magazine’s 100 most Influential People of 2005; 2004 Freedom Prize by Denmark’s Liberal Party; 2005 Bellwether of the Year by the Norwegian Political Think tank, Human Rights Services (HRS); 2005 Harreit Freezerring prize for the ‘emancipation of Islamic women’ by the Dutch feminist magazine Opzij, 2006 European of the year the European editors of Readers Digest Magazine; 2006 Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee.
A Norwegian member of parliament, Christian Tybring-Gjedde, has even nominated Ayaan Hirsi Ali as candidate for Nobel Peace Prize for 2006!
But on 16 May 2006, Dutch officially cast doubt on Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s central claim that she came to the Netherlands ‘to escape from an arranged marriage.'
In addition, the Dutch authorities have discovered that Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s real name is Ayaab Hirsi Magan and that she is the daughter of prominent Somali politician.
I do find Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s lies to Dutch authorities understandable, for as a refugee claimant, she had to use all sort of claims in order to strengthen her chances for securing legal residence status in the Netherlands.
Rather, what I find ironically delicious is how she has transformed herself from an ordinary refugee claimant to the most decorated ‘voice of reason’ and ‘the interpreter’ of ‘Islam’ for ‘the West.’
Put differently, I want to understand to what extant that the quick rise and precipitous fall of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an exemplary of the specific ways in which unqualified praises and condemnations are often bestowed on the ‘Other’ by the Eurocentric forces of the ideological West.
The Eurocentric commoditization of Ayaan as a propaganda image is evidenced by the number of highly prestigious awards which have been bestowed on her.
A picture from Ayaan' s film looking at Islam and women
Yet, a cursory examination of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s own written work reveal that this woman grasps neither Islam’s historical contribution to collative universal civilization nor the crucial role European global conquest has played in the racializing and dividing the world into ‘East’ and the ‘West’.
The following passage from Ayaan Hirsi Ali new book ‘The Caged Virgin’ demonstrates the naïve mindedness of this woman:
"The Moors, who conquered Spain and ruled there for several hundred years before 1492, were responsible for introducing basic hygiene, for preserving the great Roman and Greek classics, for introducing modern agricultural practices such as irrigation, and for a great flowering of culture."
"Starting in the twelfth century, the Muslim mind-set became less tolerant, less inquisitive, and more extremist in its view. At the same time, the Judeo-Christian West realized it needed to improve, and its people began learning, traveling and exploring. As a result, the West, The West caught up with Islamic culture and overtook it in a very short time."
Sadly enough, Ayaan Hirsi Ali seems to grasp neither the historical significance of ‘1492,’ which marks the conquest of the Americas by Europe, nor does she offers logical or empirical account of how Greek and Roman civilizations came to Europe via Islam, and same time Islam came to be conceptualized as ‘the natural enemy of the Enlightenment’ by Orientalist scholars such as Bernard Lewis whom she referrers to time and again in this book without proper scholarly citations.
As for her supposed ‘revealing’ the horrors of Islam’s oppression of women, the salient point worth asking here is not whether or not that Islam is a patriarchal religion which suppress, regulate and discipline women’s bodies and agency.
All patriarchal religions have these features in common. George W. Bush’s current ‘enduring’ crusade is not limited to ‘the war on terror’ and ‘Radical Islam.’
In addition, Bush’s current Christian Fundamentalist Crusade includes an attempt to abrogate the sexual freedoms of American women.
Bush might now have all the legal means to take away American women’s hard fought rights to reproductive and sexual autonomy by stacking up the US Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues who share his Christian fundamentalist views.
Islamic fundamentalist’s tenancy to control and regulate women’s bodies is driven by similar patriarchal imperatives.
Feminist theorists and activists have been writing about and actively resisting the interlocking apparatuses of Islam patriarchy and colonial/ neo-colonial impositions of white supremacist beauty aesthetics and cultural values.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has neither the necessary critical skills nor the moral integrity to speak for ‘Muslim women’.
And since Muslim women live in highly diverse cultural, political, economic and linguistic contexts, no body can speak about ‘Islam’ and Muslims in an abstract ahistorical manner.
As a result, the making of Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a universal sign of Otherness does tell us less about genuine struggle against patriarchal domination of women’s lives and bodies and more about the ideological prejudices and latent sexual fantasies for the ‘veiled,’ ‘caged virgin’ of ‘the Muslim female body’ embedded in the collative western imaginary.
The title and contents of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s crudely written, semi-pornographic, sorry little book, ‘The Caged Virgin’ feeds western erotic desires and sexual fantasies for the sexualized, ‘femininized’ inferior Muslim female Other.
The theme of virginity, forced marriage and sexual repression which populated in Ayaan Hirsi stories feeds western male sexual fantasies for anybody with a computer and an access to the internet can attest that ads for ‘penis enlargement’ techniques, ‘Viagra’ and pornographic promise of ‘virgin sluts’ often aim at meeting the sexual fantasies of white western male consumers.
Hence, from the standpoint of western collective unconscious, false praises which are bestowed on Ayaan Hirsi Ali often mask the fact that she voices deeply held white male fantasies which cannot be uttered openly by the commentators of both left and right Eurocentric ideological camps.
As a result, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become a commodified propaganda sign through which Eurocentric sexual fantasies and racists stereotypes can be transmuted, disseminated and consumed.
It is under this condition that Ayaan Hirsi Ali became a valuable tool to both the forces of the left and those of right in the western cultural and political discourses.
Logically, as it is with any other commodified, sign, Ayaan Hirsi Ali can easily be displaced by other signs.
The sudden fall of Ayaan Hirsi Ali indicates that she has outlived her usefulness to the Dutch state.
We just have to wait and see how long she lasts with the forces of the neocon in her new ‘home’ the American Enterprise Institute.
Editor's note: Part 1 of this article was published yesterday. Read it now
Amina Mire is a lecturer in Contemporary Sociology, Critical Race Theory and Gender/Women Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
She can be contacted at Amina_mire@carleton.ca
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