By Maher Mughrabi
March 31 2017
Ayaan Hirsi Ali serves up pseudo-theology just as the NutriBullet infomercials use pseudo-science.
I don't know how many people in this country remember Curveball, or even know who he is.
I never forget him, partly because I am of Arab and Muslim background and partly because I work in journalism, where you spend a great deal of time each day working out how it is that we know what we say we know.
Curveball told powerful people in the West a story they wanted to hear about the Middle East. A hair-raising story on which reams of supposedly considered analysis and a clarion call to war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives were built.
A story which his captors warned had holes in it, but which their superiors ran with in the name of a higher cause. A story which turned out to be completely and utterly false.
Curveball is an extreme example, but by no means alone. Those of us who remember him also remember Norma Khouri and Australi Witness and "Gay Girl in Damascus". We remember how each of these frauds tapped into a desire on the part of audiences to hear certain kinds of stories about Muslims and their world, and how those stories were convincing to the untrained eye but upon close scrutiny held little or no substance.
If people in the West who are not themselves Arab or Muslim want to understand why Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Maajid Nawaz and Irshad Manji cause similar concerns, they need to start with a remark like this: "Violence is inherent in Islam. It's a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder."
The idea that more than a billion people around the world might be attached to a faith either despite the fact that it is a "nihilistic cult of death" or because of that fact is not the remark of a heretic; as anyone who has actually met a significant number of believing Muslims must realise, it is the remark of a lunatic – or a very canny self-publicist. It is also, for those keen to condemn Islam and Muslims, as soothing a reductionist fable as Orwell's "four legs good, two legs bad".
Above all, it fails any number of empirical tests. We can say with certainty that the violence and conflict racking much of the Muslim world does not happen because its inhabitants are Muslims.
How? Because in recent decades alone we have seen every one of these types of violence replicated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Cambodia, in conflicts where next to no Muslims were involved. Contrary to the oft-stated view that religion causes much of the world's violence, the past century has shown the immense potential for violence of the centralising nation-state. But that's political science – a subject one almost never hears discussed in connection with Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Some people will be quick to say that none of the aforementioned countries has generated global terrorism – that, surely, is "to do with" Islam?
Again, a better explanation is to hand – none of these post-colonial nations was deemed of crucial strategic importance to the West, and so none found itself garrisoned by Western troops; whereas the countries where large numbers of Muslims live happen to lie across the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz and a vast reservoir of fossil fuels, as well as the birthplace of the West's major religion. All those things made the West a participant in the Muslim world's conflicts and then – eventually, after many decades – a target for them.
But that is geopolitics – again, no business of Hirsi Ali's.
Rather than having to chew and digest these complex factors, and how different kinds of Muslims have interacted with them, Think Inc gives us Ayaan Hirsi Ali as the NutriBullet of Islam.
Just as the NutriBullet's infomercials use pseudo-science to turn a glorified blender into a machine that rescues the nutrition "locked" inside the cell walls of fruit and vegetables ("Oh please. That's what teeth are for," as one scientist put it), Hirsi Ali serves up pseudo-theology that tells us that if we pulp the nasty, warlike Madinan verses of the Koran and extract the kind and gentle Meccan ones, we'll have better Islam and better Muslims.
Never mind the fact that every religion and every nation that has ever aspired to create a community has had both martial and pastoral characteristics (is that blood on the wattle?). Never mind that in the past two centuries far more violence has been imported into the Muslim world than it has exported. Just drink up! But if you're not healthier in the morning, don't say I didn't warn you: some things in life are too complicated to fix with a smoothie.
Maher Mughrabi is the foreign editor of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.