“Nomad” is unlikely to earn Hirsi Ali many Muslim admirers. Neither will her recent support for the proposed French ban on face veils and the Swiss referendum outlawing minarets. In denouncing Islam unreservedly, she has claimed a precedent in Voltaire—though the eighteenth-century scourge of the Catholic Church might have been perplexed by her proposal that Muslims embrace the “Christianity of love and tolerance.” In another respect, however, the invocation of Voltaire is more apt than Hirsi Ali seems to realize. Voltaire despised the faith and identity of Europe’s religious minority: the Jews, who, he declared, “are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts,” who had “surpassed all nations in impertinent fables, in bad conduct and in barbarism,” and who “deserve to be punished.” Voltaire’s denunciations remind us that the Enlightenment was a much more complex and multifaceted phenomenon than the dawn of reason and freedom that Hirsi Ali evokes. Many followed Voltaire in viewing the Jews as backward, an Oriental abscess in the heart of Europe. Hirsi Ali, recording her horror of ghettoized Muslim life in Whitechapel, seems unaware of the similarly contemptuous accounts of Jewish refugees who made the East End of London their home after fleeing the pogroms.Or this.
Islamic fundamentalist groups have long terrorized many Muslim countries, especially those, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, that were ravaged by blowback from the Cold War and the war on terror. These extremists, who now assault the West as well, have always lacked popular support within their own countries. The anarchic vivacity of contemporary Muslim societies—featuring such figures as Ali Saleem, Pakistan’s cross-dressing television host, and Cairo’s hijab-wearing sex therapist Heba Kotb, whose talk show is beamed across the Arab world—does not quite match Hirsi Ali’s description of an incurably medieval people busy devising ever-harsher laws for themselves while plotting mayhem for the infidels. In recent years, Islamist movements, led or assisted by women activists, have helped democratize Indonesia and Turkey; innumerable Muslims, such as Asma Jahangir, in Pakistan, and Shirin Ebadi, in Iran, fight to defend the rights of women against both Islamic fundamentalists and secular autocrats.