Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A few more words about the Enlightenment

I have written here before about Meera Nanda, the Indian philosopher who champions Enlightenment values as the antidote to radical Hindu nationalism in her native country.

Now a Muslim woman takes up the same urgent plea for the Enlightenment as a corrective to Islamic fundamentalism, and particularly to the oppression of women in Muslim countries.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was raised a Muslim in Somalia. Her father saw to it that his bright daughter was educated, and he protected her from the ritual custom of genital mutilation, but he cruelly rejected her when she refused to marry the husband he had chosen for her. Ali sought asylum in Holland, where she is now a fully-assimilated member of parliament. She was a collaborator of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh who was murdered in 2004 by Muslim extremists, and she lives under around-the-clock armed guard.

Ali is a fervent champion of the Enlightenment. What Islam needs, she says, is less Koran and more Voltaire. She lashes Western liberals for their reluctance -- in the name of political correctness and multiculturalism -- to criticize Islam. Religion -- all religion -- she says, is the enemy of progress. Meanwhile, countless Muslim women live wretched lives as property of their menfolk.

The Enlightenment may have had its origin in the West, but it is, as Nanda insists, the sea of progress into which all cultures flow. Perhaps it will be women such as Nanda and Ali who bring Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Meanwhile, we have our own hands full in America.