The "Good Ones" Are Not Ones

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

In the Cordoba Center debate, I have been thinking about the fact that the only Muslims who consistently come across as acceptable among Republicans these days are those like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who have left the faith and are capitalizing on it.

I am an Iranian American who does not practice Islam (although many members of my extended family do) – but I am deeply respectful of people of any faith.  In that vein, I am uncomfortable with the role Ms. Hirsi Ali has taken to playing in our media and political spheres. She paints Islam with a broad and deliberately ignorant brush.  The Islam she describes in Somalia is NOTHING like I know and that is practiced in Iran or in many other majority Muslim countries.  She deliberately (and I believe cynically) confuses Islam with conservative tribal culture.  For example, there is nothing in the Koran or Islam about female circumcision, but there is a long tradition in Somali and other tribal African culture of that practice that cuts across and predates religions. Given how articulate and smart she sounds, I can’t help but think that she knows better.

This kind of sloppy thinking conflates culture and conservative tradition with religion.  No one in our media challenges her or other "ex-Muslims" who have signed on to the “clash of civilizations” thesis (except for Nicholas Kristof who got lambasted for his review of her latest book).  It is as if Ms. Hirsi Ali is part of a cynical game by certain political factions who can take cover from charges of bigotry by pointing to the token "expert" Muslims on their side. 

Finally, any criticism of Ms. Ali is countered with the story of her flight from Somalia and the crazy person in the Netherlands who threatened her life. While the way her story is told is touching, her personal narrative is irrelevant.

The reader's email reminded me of this passage from Beinart's latest piece:

It’s telling that the people Republicans are turning to for their anti-mosque street cred are not “moderate, peace-loving” Muslims, since even Muslim Republicans are disgusted by their party’s actions. The GOP’s new heroes are former Muslims like Nonie Darwish and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That’s one way to escape the new Republican bigotry. Maybe the folks the GOP wants to harass in Arizona should try becoming former Hispanics.