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June 14, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Cognitive Dissonance Tour

Two recent articles, one from the New York Times, and one from a far more respectable, professional, and mainstream outlet, BigGovernment.com.

NYT reporter Pamela Paul covers Hirsi Ali's recent appearances, including at one of those cocktail parties -- actually a dinner party -- we've heard so much about. This one hosted by David Frum.

The appetizer? Condescension:

Whither the conservative establishment in today’s bilious political landscape? Certainly the typical Tea Party denizen, with his “I Wanna Party Like It’s 1773” T-shirt and “You Lie!” trucker hat, would seem out of place on the Frums’ well-tended grounds, nibbling chicken skewers and mini-B.L.T.’s. In the presence of Ms. Hirsi Ali, at least, there was a sense of shared purpose.

First course? Self-flattery:

Also present was The Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker, prom-girl pretty and winner of a Pulitzer this spring for “gracefully sharing the experiences and values that lead her to unpredictable conclusions,” including a rebuke of Sarah Palin. “Like all the best conservatives, I started off as a liberal,” she trilled. In a similar display of the intellectual right’s discomfort with Wasilla-brand populism, Ms. Frum mocked a speech by Ms. Palin in April on The Huffington Post. (“There was not a single memorable line, not a single new political idea, not a single proffered solution beyond the cliché.”) And lending a poignant immediacy to the rejiggered state of affairs was the Republican Senator Robert Bennett, ousted last month in the Utah primary for his votes on health care and Wall Street reform. A certain kind of nomad, all.

But finally the main course:

“Feminists are confused by her because they’re paralyzed by political correctness,” said Ms. Sommers, who along with Ms. Parker joined Mr. Hitchens’s post-dinner cluster of party smokers in the garden, where someone had left a packet of Nat Shermans (“No artificial additives!”) on a small wrought-iron table.

The conversation turned to Iran. “Look at the way the left stood up to South Africa. Where are the feminists when it comes to the situation for women in Iran?” Ms. Sommers said. “Liberal intellectuals are more offended by Islamophobia than they are by sharia,” or Islamic law, Mr. Hitchens offered.

“Some people find my views controversial,” Ms. Hirsi Ali said during a speech at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in February. “They argue that I should be silenced.” She spoke about how growing up under Islam and immigrating had incited her to activism. “I get e-mails from Muslim individuals who say there are so many things I agree with you on, and I want to come out and say these things, but I can’t because I don’t want to live like you. I don’t want to be threatened, I don’t want to run the risk of being killed.”

By 11 p.m., the guests had finished the remaining bottles of red wine and berry-topped petit fours. The Frums’ daughter had long ceased splashing in the pool and gone up to bed. The taxis were running late and makeshift carpools were hastily cobbled together.

Out front, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s security protection kept a discreet guard. “Ayaan is the gold standard of dissent,” Mr. Hitchens said. “It’s about physical and moral courage and honesty and grace under pressure. And she obviously meets that standard.”


Meanwhile, a more reputable journalist, "Mr. Wrestling IV," attended a book signing in the People's Collective of Santa Monica.

The best question of the evening came from a young man who simply asked what would be the best way to bring about an “Enlightenment” in the Muslim world. She replied that the best way would be to ask them questions about their religion and cause “cognitive dissonance” among those who blindly follow the violent exhortations of their imams. I actually laughed out loud when she used those words, as the cognitive dissonance occurring at that moment in the Track 16 gallery was practically audible. I could swear I heard the word “What?!?” thudding over and over again in the formerly comfortable brains of those around me.

The only applause of the night (!) signaled the end of the evening, and as I lined up to have my book signed by Ms. Ali, I was struck by how short the line was. Out of the 150 to 200 people I guessed were in attendance, only about 25 or so lined up to greet this remarkable individual. As I made my way down the line, I passed pockets of fervent discussion, and caught fragments here and there. I overheard one rather agitated gentleman say, “I just think there are problems in this country that she just doesn’t understand! I mean, what’s the difference between a fanatical mass-murdering Taliban regime and a mass-murdering evangelical Christian in the White House, which this country voted in for eight years?!?”

In Nomad, Hirsi Ali states unequivocally that Christianity and Islam are definitely not equivalent, if for no other reason than Christianity’s willingness to tolerate questioning and even blasphemy without issuing death sentences, and actually calls for a “strategic alliance” between secular people –atheists like herself, Richard Dawkins, and others –and Christians in order to combat the oppression inherent in an unenlightened, unreconstructed Islam (Nomad, pp. 240-241). If this man had asked Ms. Ali his ridiculous question, she could have answered it handily. So why didn’t he? Why was he huddled in the farthest corner of the room spewing his nonsense to his nodding compatriots? What about Ayaan Hirsi Ali had flummoxed him and his fellow travellers into circles of insular outrage?

Well, she was black, so they could not dismiss her as a racist; she had lived in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands and the United States, so they could not call her an ignorant provincial hick; she was an avowed atheist, so they could not call her a Christian bigot on a crusade against peaceful Islam; and she was multi-lingual, articulate, and brilliant, so they couldn’t just call her stupid. All the pejoratives they usually apply to people who disagree with them wouldn’t work, and so they were left to confront her ideas, and those ideas stripped them naked, rent their garments of superiority and condescension into tatters at their feet, and left them angry and confused, whining to each other in the corners of the room, unable to say anything to her face. Their favorite weapons, ad hominem name-calling and sneering condescension, were disarmed.

That's a good point -- this man could have engaged in the free exchange of ideas and posed the question to Hirsi Ali herself, and gotten himself the answer. (Or, at least: an answer.)

Instead he remains silent in her presence, but then asks the question in a purely rhetorical manner to his like-minded FreeMinds (TM), where he doesn't risk getting an answer that might provoke him into thinking.

These FreeMinds (TM) sure don't seem as eager to collect data as advertised.


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posted by Ace at 03:42 PM

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