By Roger Sheety
In a recent full-length essay for Time magazine titled “Beware of Michiganistan,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned in grave, apocalyptic terms of Muslim “above-average birth rates” and, therefore, of a coming “demographic change” and corresponding increase of “extremism” particularly in Europe and the U.S. From its bigoted title to her habit of referencing discredited imperialists like Samuel Huntington as her authorities, Hirsi Ali’s sheer contempt for Muslims is on full display.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Hirsi Ali has made such blatantly unapologetic racist assertions targeting Muslims worldwide. As author and journalist Max Blumenthal made clear in his devastating expose for AlterNet.org, Hirsi Ali has made a career of her Islamophobia, including lying about her own personal history and fabricating “facts” out of whole cloth. She has also propagandized for the extreme rightwing American Enterprise Institute and the Clarion Project, the latter being exposed in 2011 by the Center for American Progress as being part of a larger network of anti-Muslim commentators, writers, funders, and activists.
But let us return to Hirsi Ali’s Time magazine essay, focusing on her bizarre assertions specifically in relation to her research. “True, there are no American equivalents of the alarmist books about Europe with titles like Eurabia or Londonistan,” writes Hirsi Ali, citing approvingly the racist writings of Bat Ye’or and Melanie Phillips, “Apparently it is not quite time to warn about the ‘United States of Sharia’ or ‘Michiganistan.’ But are we underestimating the speed with which this country could develop substantial and influential populations of Islamic extremists?” In other words, the time is coming soon where the U.S. will have to deal with these Muslims—just not right now. But don’t worry, Hirsi Ali implies with her clumsy rhetorical question, she will be there to let us know when we have to really worry about these “extremists.” (No doubt we will then be graced with yet another of her books.)
Citing polls from the Pew Research Center, Hirsi Ali then makes several highly dubious claims leaving the reader with the impression that “extremism” will certainly increase in the U.S. as the Muslim population grows through immigration or otherwise (because Islam equals extremism, you see). “As an immigrant of Somali origin, I have no objection to other people coming to America to seek a better life for themselves and their families,” she writes, trying to establish some liberal credentials. However, “My concern is with the attitudes many of these new Muslim Americans will bring with them—and with our capacity for changing those attitudes.”
She also worries that Muslim Americans will have trouble “assimilating” within American society, doubtless only because of their religion. “But will the melting pot work its magic this time?” she asks. But she already knows the answer: “Ten years ago, the late Samuel Huntington feared that it already had ceased to function, citing what he saw as problems of assimilation with Mexican immigrants. If he were still with us, I suspect he would be a lot more worried about what is happening in Muslim America.” The problem then, according to Hirsi Ali, is not with Mexican immigrants after all, but with Muslim ones.
However, something very odd is revealed when one bothers to read her poll citations.
In fact, none of the Pew Research polls she references validate any of her prejudiced, generalized claims and warnings. Rather, they show the complete opposite. Indeed, a poll she cities from 2011 is actually titled, “Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism” and is subtitled, “Mainstream and Moderate Attitudes.” Among other findings, this survey
“finds no indication of increased alienation or anger among Muslim Americans in response to concerns about home-grown Islamic terrorists, controversies about the building of mosques and other pressures that have been brought to bear on this high-profile minority group in recent years. There also is no evidence of rising support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans.
“On the contrary, as found in the Pew Research Center’s 2007 survey, Muslims in the United States continue to reject extremism by much larger margins than most Muslim publics surveyed this year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. And majorities of Muslim Americans express concern about the possible rise of Islamic extremism, both here and abroad.”
Further, under the heading “Support for Extremism Remains Negligible,” the survey also finds: “As in 2007, very few Muslim Americans—just 1%—say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam from its enemies; an additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified in these circumstances. Fully 81% say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified.”
As far as “assimilation” goes, the survey found a strong majority of Muslim Americans fall into what the poll itself defines as “Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream”: “A majority of Muslim Americans (56%) say that most Muslims who come to the U.S. want to adopt American customs and ways of life; just 20% say that Muslims in this country want to be distinct from the larger American society. In contrast, just a third (33%) of the general public believes that most Muslims in the U.S. today want to assimilate.”
Regarding religion itself (Hirsi Ali’s supposed area of expertise), the survey states:
“Overwhelming numbers of Muslim Americans believe in Allah (96%), the Prophet Muhammad (96%) and the Day of Judgment (92%). Yet the survey finds that most reject a dogmatic approach to religion. Most Muslim Americans (57%) say there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of Islam; far fewer (37%) say that there is only one true interpretation of Islam. Similarly, 56% of Muslim Americans say that many different religions can lead to eternal life; just 35% say that Islam is the one true faith that leads to eternal life.
“In this respect, Muslim Americans differ from many of their counterparts in the Muslim world and are similar to U.S. Christians [emphasis mine]. In the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 28% of Christians said that there was only one way to interpret the teachings of their religion.”
On the complex question of self-identification, religion, and nationality the poll states, “When asked to choose, nearly half of Muslims in the U.S. (49%) say they think of themselves first as a Muslim, while 26% see themselves first as an American; 18% volunteer that they are both. In a 2011 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 46% of Christians in the U.S. say they identify as Christian first while the same number identify as American first. White evangelicals are much more likely to identify first as Christian (70%).” Put another way, roughly half of U.S. Muslims polled see themselves as either American first or as both American and Muslim equally. Seen in this light and as the Pew Research Center graphic titled “How Do You Think of Yourself First?” in fact shows, the figures between U.S. Christians and U.S. Muslims are nearly the same.
Focusing on only three countries, Hirsi Ali cherry-picks a handful of de-contextualized statistics and writes: “Three quarters of Pakistanis and more than two fifths of Bangladeshis and Iraqis think that those, like me, who leave Islam should suffer the death penalty. More than 80 percent of Pakistanis and two thirds of Bangladeshis and Iraqis regard sharia law as the revealed word of God. Only tiny fractions would be comfortable if their daughters married Christians. Only a minority regards honor killings of women as never justified. A quarter of Bangladeshis and one in eight Pakistanis think that suicide bombings in defense of Islam are often or sometimes justified.” From there Hirsi Ali then generalizes that “People with views such as these pose a threat to us all…” In other words, all Muslims hold these views and are therefore “a threat to us all.”
Hirsi Ali, regrettably, neglects to mention that two of those three countries have suffered massive U.S.-led bombing campaigns for years leading to the near complete destruction of Iraq and a severe destabilizing of Pakistan. Basic foreign policy analysis and recent history, though, are regular weaknesses in her arguments. In her recent interview with Jon Stewart, for instance, she without irony defends the U.S.-supported despotic regimes in Egypt and the U.A.E., displaying an incredible political naïveté and outright ignorance of the suffering of the Arab masses there. She also stated, to Stewart’s astonishment, that “we will be better off when a majority of Muslims value life more than death…if you are brought up a Muslim, you believe that life after death is more valuable than life before death.”
As far as Hirsi Ali’s poll evidence, though, the wide-ranging 2013 Pew Research Center study she also cites clearly states under the heading “Extremism Widely Rejected” that:
“Muslims around the world strongly reject violence in the name of Islam. Asked specifically about suicide bombing, clear majorities in most countries say such acts are rarely or never justified as a means of defending Islam from its enemies.
“In most countries where the question was asked, roughly three-quarters or more Muslims reject suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians. And in most countries, the prevailing view is that such acts are never justified as a means of defending Islam from its enemies.”
As for Islamic (sharia) law, the findings show that in Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, Islamic laws tend to be preferred; however, “Muslims are not equally comfortable with all aspects of sharia: While most favor using religious law in family and property disputes, fewer support the application of severe punishments—such as whippings or cutting off hands—in criminal cases. The survey also shows that Muslims differ widely in how they interpret certain aspects of sharia, including whether divorce and family planning are morally acceptable.” Additionally, “the survey finds no consistent link between support for enshrining sharia as official law and attitudes toward religiously motivated violence.”
In other words, regarding Islamic law, the findings are complex and vary from nation to nation, society to society making it impossible to generalize on this specific issue. Yet this is exactly what Hirsi Ali does here and often elsewhere as well.
Of course, no poll however large is infallible or without its problems; and all are subject to critique because of the inherent social and political biases of the types of questions being asked, who is asking them, and who is being asked when and where.
But not a single one of the Pew Research Center’s detailed findings or a single one of these quotes are to be found in Hirsi Ali’s essay cited fully and within their original context. Instead, she scaremongers, selectively quoting and then making sweeping assumptions in typical orientalist fashion, poorly misreading her own references and allowing her prejudices to blind her from what is so obviously stated in them. She tries hard to sound reasonable, desperate in her attempt to make an argument against an entire religion and its followers, but she inevitably sinks into the morass of dehumanization of masses of people across the world whom she knows nothing about.
Hirsi Ali’s strange obsession with demographics and birth rates also further illustrates her Islamophobia. What business is it of hers where Muslims wish to live, who they wish to marry, and how many children they wish to have? It is hard to believe that such a bigoted, badly written, and poorly researched essay as this can be published even in a mainstream publication as Time. It is equally hard to imagine that such a piece would be published at all if it was aimed against any other religious group than Muslims.
– Roger Sheety is an independent writer and researcher. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter @ibinfalasteen.