The Weekly Standard: Islam, Hirsi Ali, and the Jesus Movement
This article was originally posted at The Weekly Standard.
Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the Jesus Movement
April 13, 2015
In her National Press Club talk, Hirsi Ali admitted that her initial hope for many Muslims was that they would convert—to Christianity. “Back then I was promoting the idea, if you’re a peace-loving, tolerant Muslim and you want to be religious, why not convert to Christianity?” She confessed to sending “a very naïve letter” to the Pope, imploring him to “capture the hearts and minds of all of these millions of people who are spiritual, in search of redemption.”
Hirsi Ali’s understanding of the Protestant Reformation seems hampered by her secular lens: she fails to grasp how Martin Luther and the early reformers drew deeply on the Bible to defend the rights of conscience against coercion from church or state. This fact alone raises troubling questions about the ability of Islam to reform itself. Nevertheless, Hirsi Ali rightly emphasizes the importance of religious liberty in the struggle for political freedom. “The liberation of the individual conscience from hierarchical and priestly authority,” she writes, “opened up space for critical thinking in every field of human activity.”
This is one of the great contributions of Protestant Christianity to the West, a fact unknown or ignored by most liberal elites. Hirsi Ali’s recent appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, for example, was another reminder of the appalling historical ignorance that cripples our public debates. The Protestant reformers, Stewart suggested, were really no different than the Islamist extremists in ISIS or Al Qaeda.
“If I’m remembering the Reformation correctly…Martin Luther wanted a purer form of Christianity,” Stewart said, “and so when he put that up there it created a hundred years of violence and mayhem. Isn’t that the process that we’re going through right now?”
No, Mr. Stewart, you were not remembering correctly. In fact, you were not actually engaged in the act of remembering. Indeed, it is unclear whether this kind of argument even qualifies as an act of thinking.
“My observation is yes, Christianity is different from Islam…The worst thing that a Christian has ever said to me, the rudest thing that a Christian has ever said to me, the thing that made me most uncomfortable that a Christian said to me was ‘I’m going to pray for you. I hope you will be safe. I hope you will be redeemed.’ But within my own family and my own community, when I say I’m in doubt about the Koran and Muhammad and life after death and all that, it is ‘well, you are to die.’ So I just want to point out the differences between the religions…What makes me angry is the moral equivalence.”
Joseph Loconte is an associate professor of history at the King’s College in New York City and the author of A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 (forthcoming).