One of the most baffling transformations of recent times - even odder than Jonathan Kay's shockingly swift journey from the right to the squishy middle (where, granted, there are more employment opportunities) - is the long, strange ride of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ms. Hirsi Ali has gone from being completely wised up about Islam, the religion she rejected some decades ago and, to entertaining doubts about its immutablity.
Sounding a lot like an Irshad Manji - or a Daniel Pipes - the previously adamant Islamic apostate has suddenly decided that, ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Hezbollah, Hamas et al notwithstanding, there's a glimmer of a ghost of a shot that Islam, may, after all, be reformable.
To those of us who have read and admired Hirsi Ali in her previous incarnation, this volte face has come as the equivalent of, well, a slap in the face. And, having yet to read her latest book in its entirety (I have read excerpts and heard the author being interviewed about it on TV), it was never clear to me what, exactly, prompted her 180.
Was it, perhaps, her years of living in America? Was she infected by that nation's gung-ho attitude, it's unbridled sprit of optimism (even though, in recent years, an American president who does not believe in American exceptionalism has done his best to snuff it out)? Was there a degree of opportunism behind it in that she knew she could reach a wider audience - perhaps even an NPR/MSNBC/Oprah type of crowd - were she to harp on the positive instead of the negative, thereby turning herself into Norma Vincent Peale (or is it the Baraka Obama?) of Islamic hope 'n' change.
For the moment at least, those questions remain unanswered. Via an Op-Ed piece by Jonathan Kay in the National Post, however, we learn what Hirsi Ali attributes her epiphany to:
This is Ali’s third book. In Infidel (2006), she detailed her upbringing in East Africa and Saudi Arabia, and her flight to The Netherlands, where she became a politician and activist. In Nomad: From Islam To America (2010), she struck the pose of militant anti-Islamist culture warrior, arguing that her old religion is beyond redemption.Now, five years later, she believes that there may in fact be signs of hope. She calls Heretic an “optimistic” book - notwithstanding the depressing catalogue of Islamic-inspired violence it contains. “Seven months after I published Nomad came the start of the Arab Spring,” she writes. “I watched four national governments fall - Egypt’s twice - and protests or uprisings occur in 14 other nations, and I thought simply: I was wrong. Ordinary Muslims are ready for change.”
Seriously, Ms. Hirsi Ali? The "Arab Spring" inspired your change of heart? The "spring" that was largely chimerical, a fantasy cooked up by the gushing Western media (the New York Times's Thomas L. Friedman, among others - including the pre-Walrus Jonathan Kay - went absolutely gaga over it)? The "spring" that quickly devolved into a cold, brutal winter as ISIS and its savagery came to the fore, and even as Iran plotted to become the new hegemon in the region by acquiring nuclear weapons?
That's what did it?
Of all the events one would not expect to change the formerly clear-sighted Hirsi Ali into another Jonathan Kay, the "Arab Spring" would have to be top of the list.