Sunday, August 8, 2010

Speaking West: Ayan Hirsi Ali

The most challenging philosophical problem for those who have been brought up on staples of liberal humanism is that with language being an eternal network of signifiers, most debates remain open-ended. The rational certainties of the European enlightenment cannot be as passionately defended by its devotees as they could be not so long ago. From Gary Zukav to Derrida and from J.M. Mohanty to academics in the classrooms across India and elsewhere, negotiated flexibility without foundational absolutes is the flavor of polemics. Hence, when Javed Anand views Ayaan Hirsi Ali ( Indian Express: June 5, 2010 : 25) in the stereotypical role of a contemporary Don Quixote in his review of Nomad, I cannot help agreeing with the veracity of his perspective despite her exemplary courage, particularly as a woman, in surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, brutal violence, escape from a forced marriage, cross-cultural dislocation and asylum and writing about her experiences without rancor.
Her Manichean opposition to the faith she was born into stems largely from apportioning the world into several mutually nonnegotiable compartments in the manner of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations. It emerges from the Enlightenment’s rational project of putting people into bottles as laboratory specimens with non-transferable labels. This is precisely what Amartya Sen dismantles in Identity and Violence. It is based upon the notion that human beings can be categorized according to singular forms of affiliation based on an overarching system of partitioning and is a corollary to global confrontation. In leading everyday lives as ordinary people, we belong to a number of social formations without contradiction. A solitarist approach is a fundamental threat to understanding our identity in a shared cultural environment. The most glaring illustration of the inadequacy of such a perspective is located in the history of the subcontinent. Even if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is using the homogenizing principle of strategic essentialism (GS) her appeal to the white western superiority is for white men to save brown women from brown men. (Gayatri Spivak). Her resistance extends beyond the faith of the radical Islamists through selective readings of the Holy Book to term Islam a violent way of life. Islam is not only to be located within the spectrum of her experience, undeniably unacceptable in a civilized world, but in many other locations where it is a source of liberation.After all didn't the Prophet say 'the ink of the scholar is more valuable than the blood of the martyr?' While I admire her courage I do have a problem with her perspective.


  1. From one heretic to another: there's a great deal happening beyond the Veil. The pain of being persecuted by the very faith you were born into corrodes your consciousness like an acid that has no antidote ...

  2. Although I sympathize with her struggle to come out of the oppressive world she was born but i must say that some of her arguments are very problematic, particularly sweeping generalizations about Islam and Muslims.