Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali an Anti-Muslim Extremist?

This is part two and you can find my first post on this subject by following the link. In the first post, I explain my stance on whether or not Maajid Nawaz belonged on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of 15 anti-Muslim extremists.

In this post we will discuss Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s inclusion on that list and whether I think it’s justified or not.

Here’s a little bit about her:


I do think Ali is harder to defend than Nawaz. I think an article in Raw Story sums it up well with this:

One Iran-based atheist who blogs under an assumed name, Kaveh Mousavi, for safety reasons, expressed how many former Muslims and reformers see Ali and Nawaz:

If only Ali was on this list, one could somehow squint and say they missed the point because of ignorance and lack of nuance. While I firmly believe she is a very important voice that shouldn’t be ignored, and while I think reading her quotes in context would show that when she used to say things like “there are no moderate Muslims” would show that ultimately her positions do not mean to paint all Muslims as bad (she has gotten much better at communicating nuance recently), I could be charitable and consider this an example of poor research.

Personally, I do not believe she belongs on this list and I will go step-by-step through the SPLC report and explain why. Let’s get started.

In her 2007 interview with The London Evening Standard, Hirsi Ali “advo­cated the closing of Islamic schools in the West and said that ‘violence is inherent in Islam,’” according to a later account in The New York Times.

While at first glance this may seem controversial, it’s not uncommon to see secularists advocate for the closure of faith based schools, especially those funded by tax dollars.

Here’s a few examples.

You can also make a persuasive case that she’s right. For example, take this news story.



To argue that violence isn’t explicitly laid out in Islam is as absurd as saying Christianity has no violent verses. All you have to do is look at Sharia Law to see those violent verses put into action.

Saying that violence is inherent in Islam is not to say all Muslims are violent. The Left needs to stop conflating the criticism of a belief system with that of the individuals that practice that religion.

The report goes on:

In her 2007 Reason interview, she said, “There comes a moment when you crush your enemy” militarily, and added, “There is no moderate Islam. … [T]here’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it.” She also told the journal that she had sought to “get rid of” all Islamic schools in the Netherlands while living there.

We’ve already covered the school bit.

I read this interview and I have to say I disagree with about 60% of what she says in it. I think the interviewer did a great job asking follow up questions.

The interviewer later wrote a piece for the Friendly Atheist about that interview, and here is what he said:

There was certainly an illiberal aspect to it all. But again, context is everything. If you’ve read Infidel, you know that, in her native Somalia, Hirsi Ali was the victim of forced genital mutilation when she was five and was later almost married off to a distant cousin she despised. Those experiences equipped her with a rare determination to combat the deeply misogynistic “death cult” (her term) that is Islam, something she has done in an admirable way with the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation, an organization that helps free women and girls from cultural and religious oppression. (If that isn’t Social Justice, I don’t know what is.)

He also says:

One more thing: What do you think would have happened if Ayaan Hirsi Ali had been a harsh and implacable critic of Christianity, rather than Islam? My guess is that hardly anyone at Brandeis would’ve batted an eyelash. I’m not exactly a fan of Christianity myself, but if you’re going to shrug over unkind invective against one religion, why draw the line at another? If anything, Islam, overwhelmingly stuck in the dark Middle Ages with a mentality hostile to the Enlightenment, deserves a much more vigorous response from secular humanists and atheists than Christianity does. And that’s precisely where Hirsi Ali has directed her barbs.

I think that accurately describes the double standard at work here and elsewhere in the media. Christianity is safe to criticize because it’s politically correct, but it isn’t if it’s Islam.

The report says:

In a July 11, 2009, essay for the online World Post, Hirsi Ali criticized President Obama for denouncing “Islamic extremism without once asso­ciating Islam with extremism.” She threw cold water on the idea of the U.S cooperating with Muslims in order to battle jihadist extremism.

There are a number of writers and critics who have criticized Obama for the exact same thing.

In fact, Hilary Clinton has said she will use the term ‘radical Islam’. I don’t see anyone slapping her name on an anti-Muslim extremist list.

Hillary Clinton was asked about the terminology on CNN’s “New Day” Monday and made clear she would use the words “radical Islam,” but she added an important qualifier.

“From my perspective, it matters what we do more than what we say,” she said. “And it mattered we got bin Laden, not what name we called him. I have clearly said we — whether you call it radical jihadism or radical Islamism, I’m happy to say either. I think they mean the same thing.”

Disagreeing with Obama’s decision not to use the phrase hardly makes one an extremist. You can make the case either way, and if anything, she is helping to facilitate that conversation – something we desperately need to do in the West. We need to take an honest look at what religions teach and have that conversation, and that includes Islam.

In an Aug. 18, 2010, Wall Street Journal op-ed, “How to Win the Clash of Civilizations,” Hirsi Ali said that Islam “is at war with America” and wrote that Western civilization “needs to be actively defended” against Islam.

I read the op-ed and she isn’t specifically talking about Islam. She’s talking about civilizations and cultures that clash with the West. Here’s an example from the piece:

The balance of power among these civilizations, he argued, is shifting. The West is declining in relative power, Islam is exploding demographically, and Asian civilizations—especially China—are economically ascendant. Huntington also said that a civilization-based world order is emerging in which states that share cultural affinities will cooperate with each other and group themselves around the leading states of their civilization.

The West’s universalist pretensions are increasingly bringing it into conflict with the other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China. Thus the survival of the West depends on Americans, Europeans and other Westerners reaffirming their shared civilization as unique—and uniting to defend it against challenges from non-Western civilizations.

Again, this is an opinion and not extremist at all. It’s a conversation starter. If you actually read the op-ed, you’ll quickly see its inclusion as ‘proof’ of Ali’s extremism is patently absurd.

From the field guide:

Appearing on the March 23, 2015, edition of “The Daily Show,” she said, “If you look at 70% of the violence in the world today, Muslims are responsible.” Experts said the claim appeared to be bogus, and she later amended it to say 70% of fatalities “were in wars involving Muslims,” including civil wars.

She likely got her stats from IISS. Here’s what was in their report:

The largest increase was in the Middle East, where the internal conflicts that resulted from the societal upheavals associated with the Arab Spring intensified. The Syrian civil war took some 80,000 lives, compared with some 49,000 in 2013. The rise to prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) was a significant reason for the increased death toll in Iraq, which more than doubled from around 8,000 to nearly 20,000. Following the failure of the post-revolutionary Libyan state, fatalities there climbed sharply as regional and Islamist militias vied for power.


African conflicts also contributed to the rise in fatality figures. In 2014, violence in South Sudan, Nigeria and the Central African Republic (CAR) reached new heights. Between 7,000 and 10,000 lives were lost because of the brutal Islamist insurgency in Nigeria. In the CAR more than 5,000 people were killed in sectarian violence between the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebels and the Christian and animist anti-Balaka militia.

Her amended statement would seem to be close to the mark. And if the stat is wrong, that hardly means she’s saying all Muslims should be hated. People screw up stats all the time. Nothing in that quote says ‘do violence and hate Muslims’.

The link provided by the SPLC isn’t the entire interview either. You’d think if you’re going to use something to smear someone as a hater, you’d at least provide a link to the entire interview.

Regardless, you can find a robust argument in defense of Ali by following this link.

I also think she has become more moderate as time goes by. You can listen to a podcast here where she talks about Islam with Sam Harris. You can make up your own mind whether she belongs on a list of extremists or not.

In conclusion, I’d like to state for the record that while I don’t agree with everything Ali says, I do not think she belongs on a list of extremists. I think it’s irresponsible of the SPLC to put her on that list, and I think they likely did so because they’re attempting to be politically correct. I think Ali’s voice is an important one, especially since she has first-hand experience with Islam.

That doesn’t mean that people can’t disagree with her stances and if they do, I very much think they should speak up. We need to have a platform where someone like Ali can voice her opinions and others who think she’s incorrect can say, ‘No, here are the facts and this is why I think you’re wrong’. Branding her as an extremist does not facilitate this sort of conversation and only damages it.

I also find her treatment to be a gross double standard. People like Hitchens and Dawkins have made far more controversial statements about Christianity and they will likely never appear on a list of anti-Christian extremists.

I agree with the Friendly Atheist when he says: “The SPLC is making the mistake of equating fair criticism of Islam with unfair bigotry against Muslims. No one has to agree with what Hirsi Ali and Nawaz say about Islam, but it’s absurd to claim that they hate Muslims to the point of being extremists.”

I’d like to leave you with this video from The Thinking Atheist that sums up my thoughts on this whole thing rather well.







  1. Pingback: Are Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali Anti-Muslim Extremists? | Godless Cranium

  2. So you see no difference in how, for example, Dawkins phrases things versus Ali? None whatsoever?
    And regarding her figures and this alleged *inclination* to violence of the Muslim, how does one reconcile the 5 top murder capitals of the world are actually in countries with overwhelmingly (practicing) Christian/Catholic populations?

    • “So you see no difference in how, for example, Dawkins phrases things versus Ali? ”

      Listen to the podcast I linked and see for yourself.

      “how does one reconcile the 5 top murder capitals of the world are actually in countries with overwhelmingly (practicing) Christian/Catholic populations?”

      There’s more murder there. We aren’t talking about murder statistics.

      I’m trying to figure out why you are so set on defending Islam but have no problem doing to Christianity what you say Ali and Nawaz are doing to Islam. It’s very curious behavior.

      No one is arguing that Christianity doesn’t have it’s problems. You certainly won’t find that sentiment on this blog. However, these are just deflections when trying to have an honest discussion about how Islam also contains heinous ideology.

      • Defending Islam? That’s not just preposterous, it’s ridiculous. I’m stating there isn’t a hierarchy of good and bad religion. Islam is *as* appalling and dangerous and ignorant as the other two. The people making the dangerous case are the ones saying one form of stupidity is better than the other forms of stupidity- because that justifies one (or two) of the other varieties of stupidity.
        And pointing out violence rates according to the majority religion of a country isn’t a deflection when we’re talking about the effects of religion on violence. Or is Ali allowed to use that measure alone?

  3. The difference I see is not that christianity is “main stream” and Islam is not (to our western eyes, at least) but that criticizing Islam publicly can get you killed, tortured, brutalized. and not just you, but your entire family.
    Criticizing Christianity can get you attacked verbally, but that’s about it.

    Anyone who speaks out about Islam is risking a great deal more that we do by criticizing Christianity as it stands today. Our criticisms of older practices of Christianity are those written in the bible, word of mouth written down. The feeling is, we’ve outgrown the rough stuff. Islam has not. They still interpret their religion as literally as they can.

  4. I think that much of the left in the West has a real blind spot when it comes to Islam. I see Islam as a real threat to our modern freedoms. A far bigger threat than Christianity.

    As to the above comments about secular Muslims. Really that is like talking about cultural Christians. Secular Muslims are not Muslims.

    I think the world needs to listen to folk like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is explaining the reality. Fair to say I am very much at odds with the view of the SPLC.

    I just look at countries where Islam is the majority and that is enough to really scare me. Look at how non muslims are treated in those countries.

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