Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hirsi Ali Doesn’t Get It: Pluralism

I hate to lose a heroine. There are so few of them, these larger-than-life leaders who dedicate themselves to the common good. “Public servants” we used to call them, though most who collect government salaries have long since ceased to practice anything but self-service.

Hirsi Ali is different. She is dedicated to the public good and has laid her life on the line for her beliefs. But now, it is precisely those beliefs that call her work into question.

As everyone knows, Ali Hirsi and Theo van Gogh made a ten-minute documentary film, Submission that ended up getting van Gogh killed. He was actually executed because the killer couldn’t get access to Hirsi Ali, who was his real target. He had to be satisfied to append a message to her by a knife stuck to the chest of his dying victim.

Ali’s contention has always been that Islam is harmful to those who practice it. As the victim of an horrific clitorectomy — sans anesthesia — when she was five, Ali is living proof of that claim. She has gone from that contention to include all religions in her indictment against harmful beliefs that must be eradicated if people are to be free.

Just how fervent is her atheism is coming to light in proposed legislation to do away with Article 23 of the Dutch constitution. At the heart of her dissent are the clauses from three to seven:

3) Education provided by public authorities shall be regulated by Act of Parliament, paying due respect to everyone's religion or belief.
(4) The authorities shall ensure that primary education is provided in a sufficient number of public-authority schools in every municipality. Deviations from this provision may be permitted under rules to be established by Act of Parliament on condition that there is opportunity to receive the said form of education.
(5) The standards required of schools financed either in part or in full from public funds shall be regulated by Act of Parliament, with due regard, in the case of private schools, to the freedom to provide education according to religious or other belief.
(6) The requirements for primary education shall be such that the standards both of private schools fully financed from public funds and of public-authority schools are fully guaranteed. The relevant provisions shall respect in particular the freedom of private schools to choose their teaching aids and to appoint teachers as they see fit.
(7) Private primary schools that satisfy the conditions laid down by Act of Parliament shall be financed from public funds according to the same standards as public-authority schools. The conditions under which private secondary education and pre-university education shall receive contributions from public funds shall be laid down by Act of Parliament.

One can understand Ms. Hirsi's concern, if not her conclusions. Private religious schools of the Muslim variety teach values and a way of life that is not conducive to the integration of its students into Dutch life. On the other hand, the Netherlands form, historically, part of Western Europe’s long association with Judaeo-Christian culture. It is these values, formed in a Dutch sensibility about the world, that private and public schools in the Netherlands are designed to inculcate. Ali would lump all these schools together, and it is this stance which may cause her fall from grace.

Unraveling Ms. Ali’s beliefs to find their core is difficult. As does any politician of merit, her views have changed as she has gained experience and perspective. Thus, her initial allegiance to the Dutch Labour Party changed when the Socialists drew back from her ideas about forbidding further Muslim immigration into the Netherlands. Subsequently, she found refuge in the Liberal Party. Now, with her demand that the 23rd amendment of the Dutch constitution be abolished, her place there is threatened.

Alexandra Colen makes several points about Ali in an essay in Brussels Journal. She begins by questioning Ms. Hirsi's understanding of the culture in which she has made her home:
     Hirsi Ali became known worldwide as a paragon of the successful immigrant: bright, loquacious, a modern woman readily assimilated into Western society, and aware of the necessity to adopt the values of the nation that she has made home. But how Dutch is she really? This seems to depend on whether or not secularism is seen as the core value of Western society, or rather the Judeao-Christian heritage.
That is a very large question, one which Europe has been grappling with for some time.

In addition, Hirsi Ali appears blind to the Dutch world view:
     Her recent clash… revealed an appalling insensitivity to issues relating to religion but also to classical liberalism, where parents, rather than the state, have always been allowed to decide about the education of their children. Though Hirsi Ali exercises her freedom of speech to the full (and rightly so – it is an indication of the intolerance of certain Muslims that she needs constant surveillance at the expense of the taxpayers), she seems never to have heard of freedom of religion and freedom of education – basic freedoms which have always been as central to the concept of the free society as the freedom of the late Theo Van Gogh to shout abuse at people he did not like.
Ms. Ali may not have understood the radical differences between the culture in which she was raised and that which she adopted. Her demand to abolish all non-state schools is similar in spirit to Shari’ a law: it is one of absolutes rather than respect for pluralism.

As Ms. Colin points out:
     One may also wonder how much Hirsi Ali really knows about the history of the Dutch. Like other European peoples, they have waged fierce political battles over education and the right to organise independent schools where children could be educated in accordance with the religious values of their parents. Without this system, all traces of Christianity would have long since been eradicated from Dutch society by the secular, anti-religious, “enlightened” establishment. As it is, Dutch society has become largely secular and anti-religious. In all its “enlightenment” it has refused to procreate and, in the name of tolerance, it has accepted alternative lifestyles and multiculturalism. To compensate for the demographic void it created, it has opened its doors to millions of immigrants from an entirely different cultural background, thereby creating the problems that some, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali now hope[s] to fight by restricting the existing freedoms of the West even further for the small band of remaining Christians. Their children will be forcefully secularized by the state, because the latter is frantically searching for a means to forcefully secularize the children of Islam. [emphasis added].
So far, the United States has avoided this clash — but barely. The government-run schools are a hodgepodge of p.c. reflexivity and large doses of irrelevant diversity. These institutions continue to churn out poorly educated, historically ignorant graduates. Attempts to move toward school vouchers which would permit some children to attend private or public schools of their choice have been met with furious attacks by the powerful and entrenched system of spoils that represent American education from kindergarten through graduate school.

Given the experience of the Dutch in having won some freedom of choice in this regard, perhaps we are better off searching for an alternative in which our public schools can be encouraged to atrophy as we find alternative methods of real education. Homeschooling is not increasing in a vacuum, after all. It exists because those parents who can find a way to make the sacrifice in order to avoid public schools are doing so in increasing numbers. This continuing growth of schooling at home represents a push against the dhimmification of public education. So far efforts to ban homeschoolers have failed.

The Islamic schools in our midst are a concern. They have been found to teach anti-American sentiments. But then, so do our public schools, if not so blatantly. Thus, banning religious education would not solve our problem.

Part of the problem is the locus of power. If the provenance of schools were returned to the states and localities, many issues parents have with schools as they are would die a natural death. Parents would return in droves to an institution which they helped devise and run; children would be educated in the values and history of their surrounding community and their families. “National” “education” is a hybrid of the worst elements of each.

Meanwhile, Ali Hirsi is an object lesson: it is difficult indeed to truly move away from one’s origins without bringing along some of the trappings, however unwittingly. Ms. Ali’s one-size-fits-all forcing of secularization on Dutch education in order to avoid Muslim education for any child is not distinguishable in kind from the orthodoxy in which she was raised. It’s merely the substitution of one orthodoxy for another.

Ms. Ali has not learned or experienced true pluralism so she cannot see past the limits of orthodoxy, she can only move the chairs around.


Pastorius said...

My fellow Infidel Blog Alliance brothers and I were getting ready to award the first ever "Winston Churchill Golden Balls Award" to Hirsi Ali in the next few days.

But, as you said, we have lost a hero.

This is a very sad development for me personally, and for the world in general. I think we can write to her and pray for her. That's all I can think to do.

What a disaster.

Dymphna said...

Yes, Pastorius, it is sad.

Heloise, I don't think it's just throwing out the baby with the bath water. I think this failure of vision is a fatal flaw. Yes, she is courageous, but in some ways, she helped a reckless, thoughtless man set himself up to be killed. He simply did not believe what she knew and took care to protect herself from. Perhaps she didn't understand that he didn't know.

Now, she is determined to make the world (or at least the Netherlands) free of religions in order to free it of extremists. Shows what she doesn't know or doesn't care to understand about those famous old atheist Trotskyites.

We work to free the world from the grip of utopias. That is quite different from working to free it of religions.

Pastorius said...

I understand what you are saying. Hirsi can be an ally, but she is hardly a hero, if she wants to do away with something as fundamental as freedom of religion and education.

I agree with Dymphna. That is not an idea of Western Civilization. It is closer to Islamic totalitarianism.

Pastorius said...

I just thought of something, Dymphna. I don't think it is fair to say that she a reckless thoughtless man to set himself up to be killed. That isn't really her responsibility, is it? Didn't the Dutch have ample warning in that Pim Fortuyn was killed, and Salman Rushdie has a fatwa on him, etc.

The murder of Theo Van Gogh was not Europe's first brush with Islamofascism. Heck, that's exactly what the movie was about.

Theo Van Gogh was just a jerk. I think that's about it.

Sometimes the force for Good can use jerks, and anti-Western spirits for His own purposes. And that's what He has done with Hirsi Ali and Theo Van Gogh.

They're handling their self-destruction on their own.

al fin said...

Hirsi Ali fails to recognise that government schools are just another form of religous school. The religion taught in government schools is simply a different religion than that taught in Jesuit or other private schools.

She is a limited being, after all, and cannot be expected to see the totality of the world. Her recommendations must be seen in that light. She is nevertheless quite courageous and worthy of admiration.

Ertejaa said...

Dymphna, your criticism of Hirsi Ali appears unwarranted.

Just because she disagrees with certain clauses of the dutch Constitution, does not mean that she opposes all religious freedoms, in particular reformed religion, which makes religion a matter of the person.

If Hirsi Ali's position is to disallow minor brainwashing (both by secular ideologies or by religious ideologies), then she should be commended.
However, there is something to be said for the position that parents should not be in the business of brainwashing their own children, simply because they happen to have power over their own children.

Ethically it is unjustified for anybody, including a parent or the state, to brainwash minors.

Nobody has a monopoly on ethics. In fact ethics is a very rational and empirical construction and little or anything to do with religion.

Pastorius said...

I think you and I mostly agree here. I realized that I didn't quite articulate what I mean. I have always called Hirsi Ali, "A Hero of Western Civlization." I thought of her in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln, or Ronald Reagan. No longer do I think of her that way. Now, I would say she is a hero, but a limited one. And yes, it is probably appropriate to compare her to people like FDR, JFK, or maybe Patton. In other words, she is a warrior in a limited space, and a very good one.


Have fun, as you are studying history, trying to find the origin of ethics in reason.

It ain't gonna happen, baby.

It's like looking for a diamond in a pile of horseshit.

al fin said...

Ethics is certainly not rational. Ethics involves pure value judgments, which are highly emotional. The rational component comes into the picture later, when justifying the emotional choices one has made.

Dymphna said...

ertejaa --

"brainwashing" is a very loaded word. It first arose in common parlance during the Korean War, when our POWs taken by the North Koreans were made, by certain proven methods, into robots suffering severely from PTSD and willing to betray their country after that "brainwashing" treatment. They were not treated kindly by Americans when they returned because no one understood then what the Stockholm Syndrome was. We still don't quite get it.

To equate what was done to them with the necessary job parents have to inculcate in their children the values and mores of the community is to skew the dialogue. Teaching those values has a small window of opportunity, just as teaching a foreign language (so that it is learned like a native) has its small window. Past that given period of a child's life, the values are lived out, for better or worse.

Hirsi Ali is a survivor. The things she went through to get to the point she has make her resiliency obvious. But her experience has left her with gaps of understanding -- and she has indeed been formed by her upbringing. She describes her childhood as a devout and observant Muslim and then her subsequent rebellion from that.

Now she is as devoutly atheist as she was once devoutly Muslim. And she believes that secularism is the state religion that schools should be teaching. To that end, she wants to abolish an amendment in the Constitution of a country in which she not lived for very long. I think this is rash.

Heloise -- I don't dismiss Ali as a "major player" -- it is that I tripped over my own admiration of her and now have to draw back and re-think that. Nearly all the people you mention are my heroes also (sans FDR) and I know their shortcomings pretty well -- or at least I've seen them dissected pretty thoroughly...

...but I don't think that she's "grasping at straws" and there are many in the Netherlands (and here, too) who would agree with her assessment of what is good and necessary. I happen to think that what she wants is harmful in the long run, as is being proved in the demographics in the Netherlands (and the rest of Europe) even as we watch...

But you're right: this woman has the cojones. Boy, does she ever!

Wish we had someone similar here, someone who has been limned by the circumstances of her life so that she sees her role in a perspective that doesn't come from the experience of living a pampered life in the west. This is more than about being poor (which Ali wasn't), it's about being limited because of your gender, your nationality, etc...

Nonetheless, I do think that Ali unwittingly set Theo van Gogh up. I don't think she understood how much he did *not* understand about who he was riling. He was a dramatist, a theatrical man and he was as blind to the environment she came from as she is to his...

That said, I think it was crummy that the government didn't allow her to speak at his anniversary memorial. It was only thru the pressure of the family that she was even permitted to be there.

Her unspoken commemoration was published but I was never able to find a copy. If anyone knows where it can be obtained, I'd be grateful.

Dymphna said...

al fin--

Thanks for your succinct explanation of ethics. I'm going to give it a bit of thought and perhaps post on it before Christmas. Of course, this means going back to Plato, but heck, who needs to write Christmas cards anyway?

Jason Pappas said...

One of the problems, of course, is the state funding of schools, which in the Netherlands is given to both public and private institutions. The amendment prevents the state from objecting to the religious teachings in the private schools as long as standards are maintained on general curriculum. Since the Netherlands is so socialistic, it has to allocate its resources to enable the teaching of religion. After the government takes most of your money and regulates your school, you need to insure some means of choice - hence this amendment. I wouldn’t be necessary if there were no government schools, or government funding (or taxes taken for funding!)

I remember reading about the public education movement in our country in the 1840s (Horace Mann, etc.) I remember one author claiming the public schools were advocated, in part, to slow the growth of parochial schools by the Irish-Catholic immigrants. The uncontrolled immigration brought an unusual number of immigrants to this country in a short period due to the potato famine. There was some concern, rightly or not, that they didn’t understand American culture and values. Unfortunately, we are saddle with these publicly funded institutions. And, today, the Catholic schools are one of the great opportunities for poor New Yorkers of all backgrounds! Also, they are quite compatible with our traditional values!

Note that the Dutch regulate their private schools. This is what I worry about with vouchers (unlike tax credits.) For example, I remember reading that there was some regulation that was imposed on all colleges, under threat of losing government-backed loans! Yes, loans that will be repaid by the students – not the tax-payers. If I remember correctly, only Hillsdale Collage was able to say “no” to the government. Thus, I worry about vouchers. Tax credits insure that you keep your own money (but not your neighbor's) to spend on your own child’s education (defined as you see fit.) I think they give greater (but not absolute) protection from government regulation. And they give the pride of having provided for your own children. I’d also give tax credits to anyone who has no children in public schools. While I’m at it, let’s just solve the problem by get rid of public schools altogether … OK, OK, that’s a big battle! But I can dream, can’t I?

Oh, yes, I’d solve the Dutch problem with Islam by defining Islam as a political ideology; and reserve religion to describe those belief-systems without a built-in political ideology but that focus on individual salvation. Islam would still be covered by freedom of political expression but not subsidized. After all, the Dutch tradition goes back to the period of religious toleration after the wars to impose religious orthodoxy by the state. Which I just happened to review recently! I left out some interesting stuff…

shoprat said...

Does she know how many millions were killed during the 20th Century by militant Atheists?

hank_F_M said...


My take on Ms Ali was that she is at heart a left wing person, who however still had enough common sense to reject the multi-culturist assumption that poor behavior is to be accepted from favored groups.

I am disappointed but not surprised at these latest proposals.

But I think we should still acknowledge the fact that on some issues she rose above her peers, if for no other reason than to encourage others to do the same.

temp said...

She lost her sister
in 1998 killed by a faith
that is now paid for by the people's money...

Judith said...

The articles you print don't outlaw private religious schools. They don't seem different from US regulations of primary schooling. They say that there is a minimum standard of education that all schools have to provide, and they provide public funding for "private" schools, unlike the US.

You leave out the fact that Holland was the home of Erasmus, and Baruch Spinoza, who was protected by the Dutch government after being excommunicated from his Jewish community there. Holland was known as a welcoming place for those fleeing religious persecution, and as a relaxed tolerant place. That didn't start in the 1960s.

I am a practicing Jew, not an atheist. Hirsi Ali talks about trying to change Islam from "submission to God" to "conversation/dialog with God." Well, that is exactly how Judaism views our relationship with God. So even "fundamentalism" in Judaism is different from how it is in Islam. So even ultra-Orthodox Jews have no problem living in their cloistered communities under the umbrella of secular democracy. Neither do the Amish, for example. Our liturgy even has a prayer for the welfare of the government, which dates back to the Middle Ages at least. I don't know what Hindus think of all this, but they are very successful and loyal to the US.

So I am uncomfortable with her lumping all these religions together (Hitchens does the same thing), and at the same time uncomfortable with your stridency about "Judeo-Christian" heritage. I appreciate where Enlightenment values come from, but ironically their secularization come partly from the heritage of the Netherlands, and your argument is weakened by leaving that out.

Judith said...

I think I misunderstood your post. You are saying that Ali is contesting the articles of the constitution you posted? You should make that clearer, it is easy to misconstrue.

Anyway, my comment about the history of the Netherlands stands.

temp said...

Art. 23 of the Dutch constitution, the end of the schoolstrijd/battle since stateman Thorbecke around 1860 made governement funded openbare/non religion based middelschools, was added in 1917 traded against the right to vote for women. Now still anyone can start their
own school.

MaxedOutMama said...

I understand your distress, Dymphna. Purely as a practical matter, I cannot see that it would unify Dutch society to force Muslims to send their children to schools which teach that sex with Moroccan boys is proof of no prejudice. Instead it would intensify the alienation and the prejudice on both sides.

On the other hand, what unifying institutions still exist in The Netherlands? I can see her point too.

In the US our way of dealing with such issues has traditionally been to provide wide latitude to individual groups while enforcing strong public rules of behavior, including the death penalty.

But the European consensus has actually been to develop an "official" secular culture which views dysfunctional behavior as a developmental disorder. This is now being challenged by these new immigrants. The weakness of a secular culture is that it has no real grounding in belief. It is formed out of tradition only, and thus it does not have a good counter-argument to those who challenge it.

Still, what she is asking for is not the abolition of all religious education, but the abolition of publically funded religiously-oriented schools, correct? In other words, she is asking for the US system.

Dymphna said...

Unfortunately, that is not the case. She was asking for ABOLITION of the constitutional statute re private schools:

Her recent clash… revealed an appalling insensitivity to issues relating to religion but also to classical liberalism, where parents, rather than the state, have always been allowed to decide about the education of their children. Though Hirsi Ali exercises her freedom of speech to the full (and rightly so – it is an indication of the intolerance of certain Muslims that she needs constant surveillance at the expense of the taxpayers), she seems never to have heard of freedom of religion and freedom of education – basic freedoms which have always been as central to the concept of the free society as the freedom of the late Theo Van Gogh to shout abuse at people he did not like.
Ms. Ali may not have understood the radical differences between the culture in which she was raised and that which she adopted. Her demand to abolish all non-state schools is similar in spirit to Shari’ a law: it is one of absolutes rather than respect for pluralism.

Beyond the change from Islam to atheism, Ms. Ali is still an absolutist: the state shall have charge of the children's education.

The Dutch -- Jews, Catholics, and various Christian sects -- fought hard for that constitutional right. She wanted to abolish it. It was then I realized that her world view had been narrowed to a visual field that did not really leave room for pluralism.

It didn't pass, though...not as far as I know. I'll check and get back to you.