Thursday, October 22, 2009

Confused Freedom Fighter

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a very brave woman. She lives under the threat of death because she dares to criticize the Islamic religion in which she was raised, yet she persists, and her courage has inspired millions. Unfortunately, she's as philosophically naive as she is courageous. An interview with her that appears in the LA Times suggests why. Here's part of the Times' story:

For five years Ali has lived under the threat of death from Islamic radicals, and in those five years, she has become an acclaimed and provocative author on matters about Islam and the West. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born into a Somali Muslim family and eventually made her way to the Netherlands as a refugee.

There she wrote a screenplay for a short film about women's treatment under Islam. Just over two months after it aired, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh was assassinated. A letter threatening Ali's life has meant she has lived under guard ever since -- most recently thanks to a fund set up by private donors.

Controversy follows her: In 2006, she resigned from the Netherlands parliament under fire for lying on her asylum papers; the complex charges and countercharges precipitated a Dutch political upheaval.

She now works for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which is headquartered in Washington. She established her AHA foundation to defend the rights of women in the West against militant Islam. Her autobiography, "Infidel: My Life," which detailed her own genital mutilation in Somalia, was a bestseller, and her next book, "Nomad," is to be published in February.

Your own grandmother oversaw your genital mutilation when you were 5, even though your father opposed it.

That's why I keep hammering on principle. My grandmother was convinced she was doing something right. She was brainwashed. She was doing it out of love. She had done it to all her daughters; it was done to her, to her grandmother. She didn't know it was possible not to be, as she called it, "cleansed." Yes, education helps, but it had everything to do with the conviction that what she was doing was right.

Will any country ever go to war for rights and women's safety?

It looks like it will not happen. But I am very, very optimistic -- not about going to war but about human beings changing their minds. You'll remember how communism was stigmatized. The big problem is [how] to define the protection of women's rights as the problem of the 21st century. If the world does that, [women's inequality] will become like the eradication of apartheid -- people will insist that it's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong, and that's when change happens.

And here's why Ms Ali, for all her courage and ideals, is quite confused. Ayaan, you see, is an atheist:

Do you regard yourself as an atheist?

Did God create man, or did man create God? I belong to the group who say man created God. I am comfortable to live without an outer force telling me what to do. I'd rather believe in human beings.

Ayaan has rejected the God of both Islam and Christianity, but if she's correct that there's no God upon what does she base her strong belief that her grandmother was wrong and that she is right? If there's no God then there's no reason why anyone should care about anyone other than themselves, no reason not to think that might makes right, and no reason for thinking that those who have the power to oppress women are doing anything wrong if they exercise that power.

Ms Ali doesn't like what they do, of course, nor should she, but if there's no "outer force" to act as a moral authority, if morality is just a matter of one's subjective intuitions, she has nothing upon which to base an assertion of the right of women not to be mutilated other than that such treatment offends her own personal sense of morality. If there is no God, if morality is nothing more than an expression of individual taste, like one's preference for Coke over Pepsi, then no one's morality is any better or worse than anyone else's.

Ms Ali doesn't think women should be reduced to chattel, others think they should. Neither side is right nor wrong any more than those who prefer Coke are right and those who prefer Pepsi wrong. Ayaan has no authority to which to appeal to support her asseveration that those who disagree with her are "wrong, wrong, wrong." It's all based on her preferences which are no more binding on others than is her preference in soda.

Only if God exists does the claim that something is morally wrong make any sense. Only if right and wrong are grounded in an objective transcendent moral authority can the claim that oppression and abuse are wrong rise to anything more substantive than the equivalent of "I don't like oppression." Only if practices such as genital mutilation violate the objective moral law of the Creator of the cosmos can we say that someone is wrong to do it. Otherwise, we are just emoting when we say something is wrong.

Anyway, despite the philosophical inadequacy of the foundations of her convictions she is a heroic woman. Read the rest of the interview with her at the link.