Fareena Alam writes a nasty and spiteful review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book The Caged Virgin in The New Statesman. Sample: "Hirsi Ali, a woman who has built her career on portraying herself as a victim". Er, no, Ms. Alam, Hirsi Ali certainly does not portray herself as a victim, quite the opposite in fact.
Alam relates, with relish, the story of the Dutch TV documentary that in May this year led to "the Hirsi Ali affair", whilst neglecting to point out that the fact that Hirsi Ali had lied to get asylum was public knowledge back in 2002. She also quotes Jytte Klausen ("who knows Hirsi Ali") as saying that "She wasn’t forced into a marriage. She had an amicable relationship with her husband, as well as with the rest of her family. It was not true that she had to hide from her family for years." As far as I can see, the source of this quote is a telephone conversation that Haroon Saddiqui had with Klausen in May before penning his poisonous attack on Hirsi Ali in The Toronto Star. I don’t know how well Klausen "knows" Hirsi Ali, besides the fact that they have appeared at at least one seminar together in Sweden in 2003, but I do feel inclined to treat her statement with some scepticism.
Alam also writes: "Practically all of her conclusions are based on her own ‘tortured’ experiences and observations of Islam". I can well imagine that if, as Hirsi Ali did, I worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and refuges for battered women, then I might see the world through a jaundiced eye, but that does not remove the reality of those observations and experiences. One chapter entitled Four Women’s Lives gives the stage to others to tell their story. One of the strengths of Hirsi Ali’s book is that she does provide the source references to her claims – although Alam sneers that: "she provides little evidence to back up her claims that the Muslim woman is a caged virgin – sexualised, segregated, denied human rights – and that Islamic theology is responsible for this". Really, I wonder whether we’ve actually read the same book.
But then, MRDA – Mandy Rice-Davies Applies. When it comes to facing unpalatable truths about aspects of one’s religion, Alam’s reaction and subsequently the review should come as no surprise. To paraphrase Mandy, "She would write that, wouldn’t she?"