Postscript: Paul Berman on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “the best-known feminist intellectual ever to come out of Africa”

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I came late to the table on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, so it was fascinating to read Paul Berman’s 50-page defense of the woman he calls “the best-known feminist intellectual ever to come out of Africa” in The Flight of the Intellectuals, published last month.  He recounts the charges that she is “strident,” “disdainful,” and “aggressive” — what?  Is this the same warm and effervescent woman I saw speaking Tuesday night?

Berman’s words:

“The campaign in the intellectual press against Hirsi Ali seems to me unprecedented … A sustained attack in the intellectual world on a persecuted liberal dissident from Africa, a campaign in the press that has managed to push the question of women’s rights systematically to the side, a campaign that has veered more than once into personal cruelty, a soft vendetta, but a visible one, presided over by the normally cautious and sincerely liberal editors of one distinguished and admired journal after another, applauded and faithfully imitated by a variety of other writers and journalists, such that, in some circles, the sustained attack has come to be accepted as a conventional wisdom — no, this could not have happened in the past, except on the extreme right…

How did this happen?  The equanimity on the part of some well-known Western intellectuals and journalists in the face of Islamist death threats so numerous as to constitute a campaign; the equanimity in regard to stoning women to death; the inability even to acknowledge that women’s rights have been at stake in the debates over Islamism …”

He also quotes Pascal Bruckner: “A culture of courage is perhaps what is most lacking among today’s directors of conscience.”

Perhaps a culture of interest, too.  Hirsi Ali’s Bay Area appearances went completely unnoticed by the media. No press coverage that I can find, other than this lone blogger.  (Haven’t given up yet.  I’ll keep looking.)


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