Saturday, 18 February 2012

Defending Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Noah Fitzgerel's straw man argument

They breed 'em young these days, the Islamopologists.  The Huffington Post has a piece on 16th Feb from one Noah Fitzgerel (sic), a 17-year old editor of the Annandale High School Newspaper.  But let me not succumb to an inversion of argumentum ad vericundiam....  The boy is entitled to his views and if Huffpo wants to run them, fine.
Problem is they're rather ill informed views and more to the point, flow from a simple straw man argument.
That "argument" such as it is, is neatly contained in the headline: "Not All Islam Is Radical Islam".   This is Fitzgerel's response to Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World" which I commented on here.
The headline doesn't misrepresent or simplify Fitzgerel's argument.  He says:
  • "Ms. Ali immediately grouped Muslims of all nations into one mass."  
  • She "has enabled herself to point the finger of hypocrisy to Muslims in general..." and  
  • "...  this line of thought is Ms. Ali's attempt to demonize Muslims across the globe." 
In sum, the charge is she conflates all Muslims with violent Islam.

But these charges are simply not true.  They are without any foundation in the article in question. They are classic straw man.

For example, this is what Hirsi Ali says of the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world:
  • Para 2: "... it is government and their agents... In other [cases] it is rebel groups and vigilantes..."
  • Para 5: In Nigeria, "Islamist radicals provoke much of the tension... The newest such organisation is an outfit that calls itself Boko Haram...."
  • Para 6:  In Sudan it is "...the authoritarian government of the Sunni Muslim north..."
  • Para 7:  In Egypt persecution is "undertaken by extragovernmental groups as well as by agents of the state..." and Christians "... marched in protest against a wave of Islamists".
  • Para 8:  In Iraq Christians are killed by "... terrorist violence...".
  • Para 9:  In Pakistan Christians live in fear from "... Islamist terrorists but also of Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws."
  • Para 10:  "The nation's [Pakistan] blasphemy laws are routinely used by criminals and intolerant Pakistani Muslims to bully religions minorities."  World Vision offices were attacked by "A militant Muslim group...".
  • Para 12:  In Saudi Arabia, "... the religious police regularly raid homes of Christians..."
  • Para 14:  Christians have lost the protection of their societies especially in the "growing radical Islamist (Salafist) movements".
So, to sum it up: authoritarian governments and their agents, rebel groups and vigilantes, Islamist radicals, Islamist/Salafists, Islamic terrorists, militant Muslims, Boko Haram, blasphemy laws, religious police.  These are the groups and individuals Hirsi Ali identifies as persecuting Christians.  Does that sound as if she is grouping "Muslims of all nations into one mass"?  Absolute crock, absolute rubbish, absolute misrepresentation of Hirsi Ali's argument.
The only time Hirsi Ali uses "Muslim" without a qualifier is the one that Fitzgerel latches onto.  She says (para 13):
... the global war on Christians isn't a traditional war at all.  It is, rather, a spontaneous expression of anti-Christian animus by Muslims that transcends cultures, region, and ethnicities.  
In the context of all the other qualifiers that precede this statement, it is clear what she means, and in any case, for those of us who follow these issues, it's true.
I must assume Fitzgerel is an intelligent lad -- he edits his high school paper, after all -- so this misrepresentation is not for failure to understand Ali's article, but is a willful misrepresentation done for an agenda: that of an apologist for Islam, an Islamopologist in the Islamopolosphere, in which Huffpo is a leading light.
Hirsi Ali ends her piece with this suggestion, one that strikes me as eminently sensible:
As for what the West can do to help religious minorities in Muslim-majority societies, my answer is that it needs to begin using the billions of dollars in aid it gives to the offending countries as leverage. Then there is trade and investment. Besides diplomatic pressure, these aid and trade relationships can and should be made conditional on the protection of the freedom of conscience and worship for all citizens
By the way, the worst thing Fitzgerel can say about the murder and persecution of Christians in Muslim countries is that they are "unfortunate" and "never acceptable". I'll wager he'd use stronger words if the situation were reversed.
LATER: my post to Huffington Post below the fold. I wonder if they'll run it.  The first comment there is critical of Fitzgeral, so there's hope.
Fitzgerel's article is a straw man argument. 
He claims that Hirsi Ali groups "Muslims of all nations into one mass" and "attempts to demonize Muslims across the globe". 
But that's simply not true. The groups and individuals she identifies as persecuting Christians include: authoritarian governments and their agents, rebel groups and vigilantes, Islamist radicals, Islamist/Salafists, Islamic terrorists, Boko Haram, blasphemy laws, religious police, militant Muslim groups. 
To say that she lumps all Muslims into "one mass", is a grossly wrong misrepresentation of her argument -- classic straw man tactics. Clearly Fitzgeral cannot bring himself to address the substance of Christian persecution in many Muslim countries. (well, other than to say it's "unfortunate"...)
Hirsi Ali suggests the west use its billions of dollars in aid, and trade/investment to bring pressure to bear on offending countries. This strikes me as a practical and eminently sensible suggestion. Certainly more constructive than attempts to whitewash the situation and raise -- yet again! -- the Crusades as moral equivalence.