I STEPPED INTO A BORDERS Bookstore a few weeks back. I was very early for an appointment and I thought I’d kill time. I shouldn’t have gone to the Islam section, but of course I did, thinking perhaps I’d spot a new title that had escaped my obsessive radar. Maybe a good work of history or a nice travelogue; recently, my interests have shifted to contemporary Lebanon. Instead, on the top shelf, occupying the most space, was copy after copy of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, a work in which the self-proclaimed non-Muslim exaggerates her personal experiences, generalizes from them and applies the death sentence to all of Islam, its cultures, arts, values, peoples and achievements. Everything except the Islam section, of course, which has to thrive for her to sell many copies of her book.
It occurred to me that it was rather absurd for a bookstore to feature most prominently, in a religion section, a book by a person no longer of that faith and interested only in the demonization of that faith. Should the Christianity section highlight Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ? How benignly offensive it was. Borders’ intention is to sell books, and Ms. Ali sells. So it’s not that the bookstore’s policy is to insult Islam out of malice. It’s just to turn a profit. I suppose that’s more offensive, as a shallow sin is worse than a deep one. It is also a very common one: CBS and MSNBC had no problem with Don Imus until their advertisers did. We encourage simplicity, superficial analysis and endless rudeness, and then are shocked with the results, locally and globally. Imagine. In an era of government hegemony and misrepresentation, in a time of a so-called global war that might last generations and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. An American bookstore, a supposed repository of knowledge, guides you to the Islam section and then sells you a book on why Islam is evil. Why do they hate us? Why not, why do we so profit hate? Why are we so good at producing it?
All this propagandizing reminds me of recently high-profile atheists and their projects, men such as Sam Harris (author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation), or Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion). They make their arguments for atheism, and that is all well and good: freedom of speech and conscience gives them every right to their opinion. But then they pursue their agenda further, arguing that humanity would be better off without religion. What they never seem to understand are firstly the hubris and arrogance implicit in such a preference – we know what’s good for you, whereas you don’t – and the menacing nature of their presumed superiority. How exactly should we go about removing religion from human life? Should we have tribunals? Should we force-feed students in public schools a scientistic diet? Should we denounce religious persons as backward, fanatic and stupid? We would, in other words, treat the religious as Ayaan Hirsi Ali treats Islam. But how long can she go on doing the things she does?
Persons like Ms. Ali have nowhere good to go next. What comes after Infidel: Whatever’s worse than Infidel. (Maybe Abu fahl, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, bending truth and gender!) Such pamphleteers are puppets of a kind: because they trash Islam, and because that is acceptable these days – Don Imus called for the Palestinians, as a people, to be nuked, although he was fired for a comment directed toward a basketball team – they are published, read, promoted, encouraged . For a time. They find themselves nice slots, at kremlins like the American Enterprise Institute, and there they continue bashing Islam. But like any good puppet (say a certain Reza Shah of 1941), sooner or later thev find themselves on the intellectual equivalent of Mauritius. Because if your only job is to profit off an uninformed and blanket disgust for human beings, there’s only so far you can take that. You have two choices: either continue writing inaccurate nonsense, in which case your authence will become bored and move on to the next zealot; or write something more nuanced, learned and beneficial, in which case your audience will become offended and snap at you. Or maybe the world will wise up.
There are those who commit violence and those who create environments that encourage violence. Don Imus got fired for less than that; Muslims should expect the same respect. Ms. Ali would not be an “infidel” if there were no Islam left. She would have nothing left to say and nothing left to write if Islam receded, except perhaps – would that it were so! – she might comment on her contribution to a general environment of disdain or disgust, parallel to the way radical Sunnis treat Shi’a Muslims, or some politicians deny certain genocides. What else can you really do, except feel sorry for such persons? They have trapped themselves inside their own boxes, the size of hardcover books or pulpits or broadcasting booths. They do not speak with any credible knowledge or familiarity with a topic; in fact they celebrate their ignorance and seek to make money from it, and so preclude the possibility of their own or our enlightenment. Then, when it comes to their next book, they know not what to say. They have said it all. They have condemned us all. They have taken a personal experience and made it a global truth. The world would be better off without that kind of religion.