'Who's the Biggest Reactionary at the New York Times?'
That's the question one of the headlines on PJM's homepage ticker is asking; it links to this item in the Daily Beast: "Historian Andrew Roberts blasts Nick Kristof’s condescending New York Times review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her new book, Nomad."
Women’s liberation is something one might also have expected The New York Times to laud and support, yet the review there of Hirsi Ali’s latest book, Nomad: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations, by op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, was instead–unforgivably in my view—entitled “The Gadfly," and subtitled, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s second memoir is as provocative as her first.”
The word “provocative” is often a term of approbation; here it is clearly intended pejoratively. The only people who could possibly be “provoked” by Nomad are Islamic fundamentalists who abuse women and beat children; much of the book is a passionate denunciation of the way violence is routinely used against children in the Muslim world. Of course, equally provoked are ultra-liberal Western commentators who regard any criticism of Islamic practices whatsoever, especially those specifically sanctioned by the Koran, as “provocative” and thus somehow illegitimate.
Thus when one of the high priests of American liberalism, Kristof, came to review Nomad in the Times, he was never going to be a cheerleader. “Since Hirsi Ali denounces Islam with a ferocity that I find strident,” he writes, “potentially feeding religious bigotry, I expected to dislike this book. It did leave me uncomfortable and exasperated in places. But I also enjoyed it.” This last sentence simply cannot be true, considering the viciousness of the rest of the review. It is merely an attempt to seem objective.
If one is looking for genuine stridency, don’t bother looking in Hirsi Ali’s calm, fact-based, even good-natured treatise about how changing Muslim education is the best way to defuse extremism, her criticisms of the savage beating of children, or her moving accounts of her family life before she somehow found the self-confidence to escape a corrosive and abusive world of pain, including a clitoridectomy imposed upon Ali at the age of 5 and finally an arranged marriage.
No, for true stridency one should instead read Kristof’s almost unhinged response to the book, in which along the disgraceful and untrue accusation of “feeding religious bigotry,” he states that Hirsi Ali “is working on antagonizing even more people in yet another memoir” (she’s written two), “she never quite outgrew her rebellious teenager phase” (she was an elected MP in Holland), “she is at her worst when excoriating a variegated faith” (she does not), and accusing her of “overheated and overstated rhetoric.”
If one is looking for overheated and overstated rhetoric, consider Kristof’s assertion of modern Islam that the reason that it is “one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today” is not simply that Muslims statistically have more children than Christians and non-Orthodox Jews, but instead because of ‘the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews” (tell that to the Christian and Jewish communities that have been expelled from all too many Middle Eastern countries over the past six decades), “charity for the poor” (easy enough in oil-rich plutocracies without social security), and "the sense of democratic unity as rich and poor pray shoulder to shoulder in the mosque” (but can’t vote shoulder to shoulder in the non-existent polling booths).
Truly stomach-churning is Kristof’s remark, “Perhaps Hirsi Ali’s family is dysfunctional because its members never learned to bite their tongues and just say to one another: ‘I love you.’” That might be the New York shrink’s answer to every problem, but does it really help at the moment when, as in Hirsi Ali’s case, her father ordered her to marry a stranger? That is the reality for much of Somali Muslim womanhood today, and Kristof’s answer to that nightmare—which he would not for one moment contemplate allowing in the United States—is for everyone to have a nice big group hug and say they love each other.
Stridency a concern of a Timesman? Heaven forfend. And once again, as Kate Macmillan has written, "scratch a progressive, and you’ll find a misogynist." And scratch a "liberal" feminist and you'll find someone remarkably unsympathetic to the plight of women in the Middle East.
Hirsi Ali has that rare trait she shares with the most popular American conservatives that causes her to drive interviewers who in a sane world would be sympathetic to her cause stark into near apoplexy with heretofore repressed anger.
(And it's not like the Gray Lady hasn't trashed other organized religions in the past; albeit only those religions that don't behead journalists in their name.)