Condemning Islam, glorifying the West
Under fire for plagiarism, Germany's leader of the Green Party Annalena Baerbock took a defensive tone, insisting that her writing wasn’t "non-fiction". Non-fiction, it is generally agreed, requires certain standards as far as due diligence and verifiability are concerned. Similarly, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book cannot be considered a work of non-fiction. So what is it that she’s written?
Her footnotes, at least, are without reproach. They stretch to fifty pages at the back of Prey, including references to Samuel Huntington, Alice Schwarzer and Kamel Daoud. Ali makes frequent reference to her own speeches. She has taken great pains; the subject is clearly important to her.
Born in Somalia in 1969, Ayaan Hirsi Ali escaped a forced marriage by fleeing to the Netherlands, where her collaborator on the 2004 film Submission, Dutch director Theo van Gogh was later murdered by a Salafist. She now lives in the United States. She is subject to police protection and is still concerned above all with one issue: the danger posed to the West by Islam or, more precisely, the danger posed to Western women by Muslim men. Prey is an update following the influx of refugees in 2015. Put bluntly, Ali’s thesis is "everything that was bad has grown worse since 2015".
Statistics carry little weight when sloppily applied
Much that you might recognise from similar titles can be found in this book: lamenting the dangerous naivety of the West, an attitude of concerned admonishment, the advantage of knowledge as a Muslim insider, and, of course, statistics. But page-long notes do not guarantee scientific validity, just as statistics carry little weight when sloppily applied.
Ali begins with AfD politician Beatrix von Storch’s claim that illegal immigrants committed 447 murders in Germany in 2017. The Federal Ministry of the Interior has only noted 27 murders or attempted murders by illegal immigrants, writes Ali, but "if you include all those seeking asylum and refugees", the number actually amounts to 447. Of course, if you counted all crimes committed by all migrants to the country since the currency reform, you could certainly come to an even more alarming conclusion.
A study carried out by the Federal Ministry for Families in 2004 examining violence against women found that Turkish and Eastern European women were subjected to physical violence with particular frequency. Ali’s conclusion on the matter is as follows: "Even before the 'mass migration' from 2009 to 2018, the violence exacted upon women in the Muslim population in Germany was cause for concern". And what about the women from Eastern Europe?
In 2005, the probability of an immigrant in Sweden being suspected of a sexual offence was five times higher than that of a 'native' Swede. But the question as to what degree of this translates to actual crimes, and what is pure prejudice, is something Ali neglects to touch on.
One could continue in this vein, straightening out all the crooked curves, laying down selective evidence provided by statistics piece by piece, if the methodological deficiencies weren’t similarly alarming elsewhere. There may be a certain logic to using Tubingen's mayor Boris Palmer as key witness for 'problem cases' among asylum seekers ex officio ("They have no respect and feel no gratitude towards German society").
But what proof are the observations of a pensioner who makes a hobby of attending court proceedings in Munich and claims that "lots of asylum seekers and refugees appear in court charged with violent assault"? How credible is the testimony of an Afghan ex-police officer quoting a Syrian man who is supposed to have said, "Someone should keep an eye on us [immigrants] (…). We can’t handle this much freedom"?
Injustice towards women only matters when Muslims are involved
For Ali, that’s all there is to say. The influx of "unmonitored" Muslim immigrants – "uninhibited young men" – endangers the West’s accomplishments for women, Ali claims, such as equal rights, social mobility and visibility in the public sphere. Ali’s verdict on the Islamic world is scathing, and her essentialism is wide-reaching, treating the centuries-old schools of Islam as if they have undergone no development in any country anywhere; it is misleading that she presents countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran not as extremes, but as future scenarios for Europe, glorifying Western society as she does so.
Her enthusiasm is sometimes comical. 39-year old Oldenburger, Nicola, describes herself as a previously open and trusting person, but claims that, after unpleasant encounters with Muslims, she has begun carrying pepper spray in her bag and avoiding certain routes. Ali meets Nicola "in her beautiful living room", dressed in a floral-patterned blouse, her chestnut hair "piled up in a chignon", her young son playing on the floor. They "seemed to me like the epitome of modern Europeans: the husband participates in raising the children and supports his wife’s career," Ali writes. Make what you will of white mainstream society – it doesn’t merit this level of kitsch.
The worst thing about Ali’s book, however, is not passages like these, nor her forays into Islamic theology, nor her supposed discovery of a "conspiracy of silence" when it comes to the danger posed by Muslim men – as if this were actually a taboo, as if the most liberal women in Germany could claim not to have been gripped by various fears for some time now. No, the worst thing about Prey is its misogyny.
The Me Too movement? Too much noise about "the misdeeds of a few hundred prominent men". Feminist efforts to "end the patriarchy" or achieve equality in the labour market? Merely "elite concerns". Only Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself knows about "the daily life of the average woman", but she doesn’t want to mock the feminists of today, she wants "to wake them up", a desire somewhat reminiscent of the sense of mission exhibited by conspiracy theorists.
First and foremost, Ali writes, all women must have the right to live free from violence, and one might agree wholeheartedly, if she didn’t flagrantly leave out the greatest danger women face: every day in Germany, a man will attempt to kill his wife, girlfriend or former partner and this is consistent across all of society, all classes, religions and ethnic groups.
Experts agree that attention given to crimes is greater if the perpetrator is Muslim, a refugee or a migrant and the crime can then be interpreted as an expression of a "backwards, patriarchal culture". If the perpetrators or victims are of German descent, however, the act of femicide is romanticised; authorities, legal figures and the media speak of a "family tragedy", "domestic violence", and "crimes of passion". As politologist Mokika Schroettle writes, "culture is usually just the culture of others".
Ali’s interpretation of events bears the marks of an obsession. Injustices perpetrated against women only matter to her if Muslims are involved. All other violent assaults and disadvantages are not worth mentioning when measured against the brilliant accomplishments of the West. It also serves to solidify power structures. It’s not pleasant, but nor is it uncommon for women to engage in misogynistic politics.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali does not want to be reduced to her life story; her demands are not personal, but universal. This eliminates any mitigating circumstances. Prey is an outrage, though admittedly a lucrative one. There is a huge market for books that stoke the furore of criticisms of Islam.
To put this theory to the test, may I suggest another two titles which could prove popular with the public: "Why Muslims are to blame for climate change" and "Islam makes you fat".
© Suddeutsche Zeitung/Qantara.de 2021
Translated from the German by Ayca Turkoglu