Understanding Ayaan Hirsi Ali: A Critical Examination

Mark Kolsen

One of America’s most prominent atheists, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, has been severely criticized, even threatened, for her views regarding Islam. Critics say she has misinterpreted the Qur’an, inaccurately characterized Muslims, and promoted “Islamophobia” in the United States. They further posit that she does not understand that Islam is a religion of peace, not war, and that only a radical fringe threatens the West, a minority that can be contained by military means. In her argument that Islamic doctrine must be “reformed” (delineated in her book Heretic), Hirsi Ali has also been characterized as a delusional wishful thinker. One humanist critic has even suggested Hirsi Ali must think Muslims are “stupid,” incapable of making the same (atheistic) choices she has made.

Criticism of Hirsi Ali has been especially sharp because of her support of Donald Trump and his administration. In her most recent book, The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter It, she endorses the broad goals outlined by Trump in a Youngstown campaign speech from August 2016. In that speech, Trump said that Americans must “take on the ideology of radical Islam. Our administration will be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, and will amplify their voices.” Concomitantly, Hirsi Ali criticizes Barack Obama’s previous “narrow focus” on combating only Islamist extremism, an approach that, in her words, “has proved both costly and ineffective.”

Being a friend to “all moderate Muslim reformers” seems fair enough, but some of Hirsi Ali’s concrete policy recommendations seem to align her with right-wing bigots such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, in the words of Peter Beinart, “has a history of making dangerously misleading statements about Muslims,” and whose ally, Frank Gaffney, seems to think that Muslims secretly control the U.S. government. Like Pompeo, Hirsi Ali has recommended that the Muslim Brotherhood—the alleged orchestrator of U.S. Islamists—be declared an international terrorist organization. Many of her vague recommendations about the ideological scrutinizing and surveillance of mosques, prison and military chaplains, as well as refugees and immigrants—all aimed to determine “their loyalty to the United States” —present the specter of trampling on the First Amendment rights that she claims to champion.

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