An Atheist’s Dilemma

Katha Pollitt in The Nation:

[O]nce a devout Muslim, now an atheist and feminist firebrand, Hirsi Ali brooks no compromise with religion, religious-based customs or the notion of a community organized around religious identity. “Enlightenment fundamentalist” is a rather unfair term, actually: isn’t the whole point of the Enlightenment to rely on reason and empiricism, not, like fundamentalists, the revealed truth of a sacred text? As I said in my last column, I admire Hirsi Ali, despite her conservative associations (she’s a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute) and lone-wolf style. Not every feminist has to be a social worker or a grassroots organizer. I’ll bet plenty of women, Muslim and not, have been given courage by her books and example. Just to speak out is a feminist act. Still, it’s probably the case that once you’ve described yourself as a nonbeliever, believers aren’t going to take your view of their faith too seriously: you’ve written yourself out of the story. This would be true even if you had an encyclopedic grasp of your religion, which Hirsi Ali does not.

Because he wants to see Muslim immigrants well integrated in a Europe that currently marginalizes them, [Ian] Buruma is interested in world-famous philosopher Tariq Ramadan, who says he wants to create a modern Islam, an Islam for Muslims in the West, an Islam that would provide an alternative to the jihadist fire-breathers attractive to the disaffected young. For his profile of Ramadan in The New York Times Magazine, Buruma was attacked at tremendous length and with staggering ferocity in The New Republic by Paul Berman, who thinks Ramadan is a dangerous apologist if not a covert jihadist. Certainly (as Buruma would agree) Ramadan is no friend of women’s rights. One of the more troubling charges against him is that he has called for a moratorium on stoning of unchaste women–not a ban. Ramadan justified his wording by arguing that Muslims wouldn’t accept a total ban. But somehow one expects a bit more leadership from the man who wants to guide millions of European Muslims–who don’t, after all, practice stoning. Buruma himself famously described Ramadan as a cultural conservative, the Muslim equivalent of Jerry Falwell on social issues. Beside the important question of whether Falwellian values are a good thing, there’s also the question of whether they make for the peaceful civic relations Buruma wants.