The latest criticism of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is that she’s an “enlightenment fundamentalist:”
Having in her youth been tempted by Islamist fundamentalism, under the influence of an inspiring schoolteacher, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is now a brave, outspoken, slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist. In a pattern familiar to historians of political intellectuals, she has gone from one extreme to the other, with an emotional energy perfectly summed up by Shakespeare: “As the heresies that men do leave/are hated most of those they did deceive.” This is precisely why she is a heroine to many secular European intellectuals, who are themselves Enlightenment fundamentalists. They believe that not just Islam but all religion is insulting to the intelligence and crippling to the human spirit. Most of them believe that a Europe based entirely on secular humanism would be a better Europe. Maybe they are right. (Some of my best friends are Enlightenment fundamentalists.) Maybe they are wrong. But let’s not pretend this is anything other than a frontal challenge to Islam. In his crazed diatribe, Mohammed Bouyeri was not altogether mistaken to identify as his generic European enemy the “unbelieving fundamentalist.”
Christopher Hitchens disputes this charge:
In her book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the following: “I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and sexual emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values.” This is a fairly representative quotation. She has her criticisms of the West, but she prefers it to a society where women are subordinate, censorship is pervasive, and violence is officially preached against unbelievers. As an African victim of, and escapee from, this system, she feels she has acquired the right to say so. What is “fundamentalist” about that?
I would embrace the “enlightenment fundamentalist” label. There’s no shame in being a fanatic for tolerance, secular democracy, science, and reason, and these are the fundamental values of Western civilization. Or were, once upon a time.
BONUS FEATURE: For no extra charge, see today’s Opinion Journal on Ms. Ali:
This worldview has led certain critics to dismiss Ms. Hirsi Ali as a secular extremist. “I have my ideas and my views,” she says, “and I want to argue them. It is our obligation to look at things critically.” As to the charges that she is an “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” she points out, rightly, that people who live in democratic societies are not supposed to settle their disagreements by killing one another.