TitleHirsi Ali vs. Neda & Zahra

Politics of hope / politics of fear

6 Apr 2010

■ Shervin Nekuee
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In one of the leading quality newspapers of the Netherlands (NRC-Handelsblad), Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a controversial Dutch intellectual, feminist and writer, has recently warned people to get ready for a ferocious war in the Middle East. She expects a sort of Third World War, not with Europe as its battlefield but countries like Yemen, Iran and Pakistan. Considering the looming war between the West and Islam’s heartland, her recipe for survival for the Netherlands is very straightforward: convince Muslims of stripping themselves of their religion and their background.

The polemic voice of Hirsi Ali sounds like that of a defeatist. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a post-9/11 product. She is the ‘hands-on’ expert who is emerging straight from the camp of the ‘new enemy’: imaginary ‘Islamistan’

In the United States, Barack Obama is trying to use reconciliatory words when addressing Muslim countries, and in the Netherlands – Hirsi Ali’s former home country – Job Cohen (former mayor of Amsterdam and the leader of Social Democrats in upcoming national election this June) is trying to cool down the heated political climate created by Geert Wilders, a populist politician who loves making highly controversial statements about Islam and Muslims. Hirsi Ali – now working for the conservative think thank ‘American Enterprise Institute’ – does however not seem to have any confidence in the efforts of Barack Obama or Job Cohen.
Not that this surprises me: the polemic voice of Hirsi Ali sounds like that of a defeatist. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a post-9/11 product. She is the ‘hands-on’ expert who is emerging straight from the camp of the ‘new enemy’: imaginary ‘Islamistan’. The bloodshed in New York on September 11, 2001 made the world suddenly a dark place for the West, but Hirsi Ali switched on the lights again. The western audience had believed the end of the Cold War to be the end of direct confrontation with acts of war, but the close confrontation with Osama bin Laden as evil incarnated turned their perceptions and worldview upside down.
In this context, she suddenly appeared on the world stage: our charming witness Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Soon, some other heroes and heroines accompanied her, from Norway and France to Canada and the United States. Just like Hirsi Ali herself, they apply the same kind of rhetoric and they are all ‘freed’ and ‘converted’ to secularism. Thanks to these people, the darkest western perceptions of those bearded men from the Orient – which one day were banished to the garbage dump of a not-so-honorable western canon – were suddenly no longer shameful. Relieved and freed from any sense of subtlety, we could again talk about ‘those Muslims’ (one and a half billion people), their ‘backward culture’ and the clash of civilizations.
9/11, the neoconservative rhetoric of the clash of civilizations – with Ayaan Hirsi Ali as its most visible exponent – and creating the image of ‘islamic danger’: all in all, this made some immigrant representatives, who up till then had chosen to stay on the sideline, step to the fore. Moreover, the up-and-coming second generation of immigrants, who has had a better education than the first generation, has given up on the illusion that individual success is a guarantee for being accepted in the Netherlands or elsewhere in the western world. Without Hirsi Ali, people like Tariq Ramadan would never had felt such a deep urge to speak, nor would they have gotten this much media attention.
In the Netherlands and other western countries with a large Muslim community (like France, Germany and England), the better educated second generation of Muslims has embarked on a journey of serious self-examination. They have started to make themselves known as those people expressing the desires and thoughts of Muslim immigrants. This much credit we have to give the Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s of our day and age. Still, the mistaken belief in the necessity of waging a liberal jihad against Islam – think of Geert Wilders and other western politicians – would have gained less prominence without the ‘testimonies’ of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her intellectual lookalikes.
Eight years after 9/11, the election of Barack Obama (who was against the war in Iraq) was a clear sign that American people were sick and tired of following the neoconservative warpath of their government. Both fear as a motive and the idea of permanent war against anyone who is neither audibly nor visibly ‘with us’, made room for the new hope of a universal desire for peace.

The most striking news from the Middle East at this moment in time is the internal developments in Iran, where the Green Movement has managed to unite a broad coalition of supporters – from deeply religious Iranians to hardcore atheists, who are all fighting for their civil rights

While there is life, there is hope, but hope did not suddenly change the political volcanic landscape of the Middle East. That is one of the conclusions we can arrive at now that Barack Obama been in office for a year already. America is still knee-deep in the mud of Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is also the political unrest in Somalia (where Hirsi Ali has her cultural roots) and Yemen. Obama’s reconciling words are also not ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of hope in the Middle East. Last year, Barack Obama used reconciling words when addressing both the Iranian people and their leaders, and he did the same this year. From a historic point of view, it was a very important move. With the presidential elections ahead, it helped the reformist candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to free themselves from the most efficient moral blackmail of the regime: ‘the threat of the foreign enemies’.

When George W. Bush was still in office, the Iranian regime had systematically (mis)used his threatening language against the Islamic Republic to keep Iranians quiet. The population was to some extent susceptible to this, and so were the reformers. People who belonged to the inner circle of Mousavi and Karroubi have regularly told me off the record that Obama’s message of reconciliation and peace had a very positive influence on the Iranian opposition. The determination of opposition leaders to openly criticize the regime before the elections of June 12, 2009, and their unanimity to continue their protest afterwards would have been unthinkable if a hawkish neoconservative had been in power in America – someone from the political circle where Hirsi Ali has found a new home. Karroubi mentioned it some weeks ago: it is useless to keep pointing at ‘the foreigners’ as the source of our internal crisis; we should look at the shortcomings of our own state. Such a statement would not be possible in Iran if America would be ruled by neocons and if ‘the clash of civilizations’ would still be the guiding principle of foreign policy.
This year again, President Obama kindly addressed Iranians on the occasion of Noruz. He praised them for their courage to stand up for their rights, but he also emphasized that America does not want to interfere in the internal politics of Iran. Still, he kept underlining the efforts of the US to find a political solution for the nuclear problem of Iran. But it takes two to tango: what does the Iranian regime want? It remains an open question how the nuclear problem will evolve. A short or maybe even an enduring military conflict would be a nightmare for the Iranian opposition: the regime could silence patriotic Iranians by openly pointing at ‘foreign danger’. That is something President Ahmadinejad is very well aware of. Given his waning popularity and his disastrous social and economical policies, it is not unthinkable that he would opt for a collision course.
Still, the most striking aspect of what is going on in Islam’s heartland is not fear neither the prospect of total war in the Middle East, with Iran and the US as the leading actors. The most striking news from the Middle East at this moment in time is the internal developments in Iran, where the Green Movement has managed to unite a broad coalition of supporters – from deeply religious Iranians to hardcore atheists, who are all fighting for their civil rights.
These days, the icon of the Islamic world in the western press is not Ayaan, but Neda. Neda Agha Soltan, the girl who was shot during a demonstration in Tehran on June 20, 2009, was a supporter of the deeply religious reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi. He is the undisputed leader of the Green Movement, together with his wife Zahra Rahnavard, who is very popular with Iranian youth because of her knowledge of art and popular culture, and her courage and independence. Mir-Hossein and Zahra are two Muslims who seem to find a way to remain loyal to their background but still manage to unite a large group of Iranians – whether religious, not so religious or secular. They both offer the hope of a pluralistic future for Iran, where no one feels the urge to strip someone else from his or her beliefs, thoughts or convictions. And indeed: their movement is appropriately called ‘the Green Way of Hope’.
This politics of hope goes against Hirsi Ali’s defeatism and her mantra of clash between the West and the world of islam. It is a political course that does not match with a total war in the Middle East between Islamists and the West. Neda Agha Soltan, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard are bad news for Hirsi Ali, and that is why she keeps ignoring them when commenting on Islam and the West.
But there is hope for peace and a pluralistic civilization. In America and Iran, but also in the Netherlands.

Tehran Review
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  1. John says:

    Although it is from last year, I think you may find this book review useful. The author comes from a Muslim perspective and reviews her works. The link is here … it is good to hear other opinions and ideas.


    Hope you find it interesting.

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