Citizens International

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Brett Kavanaugh, and imperial feminism



The prospect of Judge Brett Kavanaugh being elevated to Supreme Court justice – without a thorough investigation of the multiple allegations of sexual assault against him and after a confirmation hearing in which his rage and sense of entitlement were on full display – has triggered an outpouring of shock, pain, and righteous anger.

However, for one prominent “advocate for women’s rights”, Harvard and Stanford fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the real victim of the whole process has been Kavanaugh himself.

She has tweeted that the Senate should “confirm Brett Kavanaugh”, and shared articles insisting that he is the target of a “set-up” comparable to the Salem witch trials: an analogy that astonishingly manages to twist one of the most infamous exhibitions of institutionalised patriarchy into a shield for patriarchal violence.

Beyond her Twitter crusade for Judge Kavanaugh’s “rights”, Hirsi Ali has also been fully supportive of the Trump administration and its onslaught against women’s rights.

This same woman has been lauded in the West as a courageous feminist standing up to Islam in defence of women. A closer look at her work shows that her advocacy for women’s safety and equality is hardly principled or consistent, while her “critique” of Islam built on a foundation of distortions and fabrications.

Imperial feminism

Hirsi Ali’s enthusiastic complicity with non-Muslim sources of violence against women indicates that her politics are not anti-oppression, but anti-Islam. Over the years, she has also never spoken out against crimes committed by Western countries against Muslim women (or men) and she has demonstrated a remarkable lack of concern for the plight of non-Muslim women.

Unsurprisingly, since Donald Trump won the presidential elections in 2016, she has been an avid supporter of his. She has never criticised him for boasting about violating women or separating thousands of migrant children from their parents, but she has pointed out that he has “lost his focus” on “radical Islam.”

She has exhorted Trump to expand his Muslim ban and intensify “extreme vetting” of Muslim migrants: Measures that impose collective punishment on Muslim women while simultaneously relying on stereotypes of them as helpless victims who need to be saved from Muslim men. 

Apart from failing to defend Muslim women refugees (despite herself pursuing refugee status in the West), Hirsi Ali has also failed to show any sympathy for American women or fellow feminists.

She has dismissed the Women’s March as an “anti-Trump crusade,” and demeaned feminists in North America, calling them “idiotic women” consumed with “trivial” matters like ” who does the dishes at home“.

The one-sided reasoning and double standards that pervade Hirsi Ali’s output are all too common in the annals of imperial feminism. From British colonial officials such as Lords Cromer and Curzon, who paraded as saviours of women in the colonies while heading the League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage at home, to US President George W Bush, who launched a global “war on terror” in the name of rescuing Muslim women whileassaulting women’s reproductive rights in the US, self-serving and cynical appeals to women’s liberation have long been a speciality of imperial crusaders.

But individuals like Hirsi Ali provide something that the Cromers, Curzons, and Bushes cannot: a stamp of ostensibly authentic insider approval to their supremacist discourses.

And so, despite the alternative-facts quality of her assertions and Trumper-than-Trump nature of her politics, Hirsi Ali continues to be given prestigious posts at Ivy League universities, and prominent platforms in newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post.

In an interview last year denigrating organisers of the Women’s March, Hirsi Ali told “the serious and sincere feminists who really care about the equality between men and women” that they “should not be seen with these fake feminists.” But her advocacy track record shows that her own feminist credentials are largely a sham.

Getting Islam wrong

Hirsi Ali is also no mere “critic of Islam”, but a cheerleader for Muslim annihilation. Ininterviews, she has labelled Islam a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death” that must be “crushed” – an operation that, ironically, would itself require mass infliction of destruction and death, including upon the very same Muslim women whose rights she claims to be championing.         

Hirsi Ali’s depictions of Islam and Muslims bear the same tenuous relationship to reality as her own biography, which she substantially fabricated to bolster her claim for asylum in the Netherlands. In her 2007 autobiography, Infidel, she urges readers to “judge [her] on the validity of [her] arguments, not as a victim” – but judgment on either basis reveals an impressive talent for blatant misrepresentation.

For instance, in her latest book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now and various derivative op-eds, Hirsi Ali identifies “five precepts central to the faith” that she diagnoses as requiring urgent reformation: Prophet “Muhammad’s semi-divine status”, “the supremacy of life after death”, “shariah, the vast body of religious legislation”, “the right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law” and “the imperative to wage jihad, or holy war”.

However, none of the five is actually an accurately-stated “precept” of Islam, rendering their description as “central” spurious and the call to reform them (now!) nonsensical.

Some of Hirsi Ali’s formulations are the exact opposite of mainstream interpretations. Prophet Muhammad is not considered semi-divine but repeatedly described in the Quran as “only human” and ascribing partners in divinity to God is a fundamental transgression. Enforcement of Islamic law by private individuals is not only not a right, but explicitly prohibited by Muslim jurists.

The rest of her “precepts” are simply incorrect. Far from discounting the importance of earthly life, the Quran represents actions in this life as the basis for reward or punishment in the afterlife. Shariah is not a book of codified legislation, but rather “a body of Quran-based guidance that points Muslims toward living an Islamic life”,  in the words of University of Wisconsin law professor Asifa Quraishi-Landes. And jihad is not holy war – the concept of holy war being, as UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadlnotes, “the unique product of European Christian culture … Islamic theology does not recognize the idea of a sacred or consecrated war.”  

Hirsi Ali’s grasp of basic facts about Islam is disturbingly shaky, particularly for someone listed as an “expert” on the Harvard and Stanford websites and entrusted with teaching seminars on Islamic political theory.

While highly-qualified women of colour continue to struggle against their exclusion from American academia, Hirsi Ali has been welcomed with open arms to its most elite echelons.

Clearly, the utility of her interventions lies not in their scholarly rigour or factual accuracy – both remarkably lacking – but in their confirmation of Orientalist caricatures of exceptional Muslim backwardness, under the cover of standing up for Muslim women.

Repudiating her imperial faux-feminism is the least we can do to support the Muslim activists and organisations struggling against patriarchal systems around the world – whose brave and essential work is only made more difficult by the intensifying Islamophobia and securitisation fuelled by ideologues like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.   

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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