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Nick Cohen


Nick Cohen’s What’s Left is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the muddle into which a noticeable portion of the left (and, frankly, not just the left) has fallen in reponse to the rise of militant Islam. Here’s something from the Observer that gives a clue as to where he is coming from:

Earlier this year, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, an account of how she escaped from a world of genital mutilation and forced marriage to find asylum and the free thinking of the Enlightenment in Holland, was published. She was attacked, as feminists are, but the assault wasn’t led by the churches and Daily Mail but by Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma, men who saw themselves as liberal thinkers. There was an intellectual scandal in Europe, and the New Republic in Washington devoted most of an issue to what the controversy revealed about the contortions of liberal thought. Accusations of double standards weren’t thrown about simply because academics who knew no terror in their lives had turned on a woman who can’t step outside without bodyguards – just because fanatics want to kill her doesn’t make Hirsi Ali right – but because the liberals treated her with a superciliousness unthinkable in the late 20th century. Garton Ash wrote in the New York Review of Books that journalists were more interested in her beauty than her ideas. ‘If she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.’ She was an ‘Enlightenment fundamentalist’, he continued, as bigoted in her way as the Muslim Brotherhood she opposed. On this reading, there is no moral difference between those who would subjugate women, kill Jews and homosexuals, place the dictates of a seventh-century holy book above the parliaments of free peoples… and those who wouldn’t. Liberal intellectuals have no obligation to make a choice between religious fundamentalists and ‘Enlightenment fundamentalists’, and indeed could devote their energies to condemning the latter rather than the former. Garton Ash met Hirsi Ali at an electric meeting in London on Wednesday. Unlike Buruma he had the good sense and good grace to think again and he gave her a public apology. Nevertheless, he stuck to the argument that there was no point in liberals treating her as a heroine because her abandonment of Islam and embrace of atheism meant her arguments carried no weight with Muslims.

Read the whole thing.


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