Few publications are as American as Reader’s Digest. Somewhat incongruously, however, RD feels compelled to bestow a “European of the Year” Award. Yesterday the magazine announced that this year’s European of the Year Award goes to the Dutch member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
According to RD “Hirsi Ali is the person who best embodies the contemporary expression of Europe’s values and traditions.” Bob Low, RD’s European Bureau Chief of Reader's Digest, commented: “It has taken a young woman born outside Europe to show Europeans the sort of courage and determination that is needed to confront extremism and to uphold the values of tolerance and justice that we hold dear. We are proud to honour her.”
There is no doubt that Ms Hirsi Ali, a member of the Dutch Liberal Party VVD, is a courageous woman. There is no doubt that Europeans can learn from her courage. There is no doubt either that she embodies the contemporary expression of Europe’s values. And that is exactly the problem, because Europe’s contemporary values – contrary to America’s – are those of antireligious secularism.
Last month, Hirsi Ali became the focus of controversy within her own party when she spoke out against educating children in confessional schools. Hirsi Ali favours philosophically “neutral” government-organised education in state schools. As Alexandra Colen wrote
Is Islam dangerous because it is a religion? Do Muslim values differ from European values because the latter are rooted in Christianity or because they are secular? These questions are at the heart of the debate in Europe today. Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch moviemaker who was murdered by a Muslim fanatic last year believed that religion was what made people intolerant. [...] Van Gogh was a friend of Hirsi Ali’s. He was murdered shortly after completing Submission, a ten minute documentary, written by Hirsi Ali, which dealt with the abuse of Muslim women. Hirsi Ali recently finished the script for a sequel to Submission, in which she criticises the oppression of homosexuals in Muslim societies.
Hirsi Ali is right to oppose the inhumane treatment of women and homosexuals in Muslim societies. But she is wrong where she equates any criticism of feminism and “gayism” by religious people to inhumane treatment at the hands of Muslims.
Last September a Dutch court prohibited the Dutch government from subsidizing the Reformed Political Party (SGP), a small so-called “fundamentalist” Christian party, opposed to abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and trio-marriages. While the Dutch state subsidizes all other political parties, the courts have ruled that the SGP should be deprived of government subsidies because it is said to violate women’s rights by not putting forward women candidates for elections. The Dutch government decided to appeal the verdict, but Hirsi Ali, as we reported at the time, applauded it, saying that any political party discriminating against women or homosexuals should be deprived of funding and, hence, effectively banned. Are these “the values of tolerance and justice” that Reader’s Digest wants “a young woman born outside Europe” to “show Europeans?”
It is not a comfortable position to have to criticize Hirsi Ali, because of her specific background. Born in Somalia, she was mistreated during her youth by her parents who made her undergo female genital mutilation. Though according to some the practice is more an African [Somali?] phenomenon than an islamic one, she blames Islam for the injustice done to her. The latter, however, does not justify her waging a war against religious people in general. According to RD, Hirsi Ali “has pushed through a raft of pioneering measures designed to help oppressed Muslim women, [...]. She carries out this work against a background of extreme personal danger.” All too true. But the question must be asked whether, by fighting religion in general through state imposed “measures,” she and other liberal European secularist religion-haters, are not undermining Europe’s capacity to counter Muslim extremism from a healthy Christian foundation.
“She believes that she can help change the lives of Muslim women and, ultimately, the climate that breeds extremism,” RD writes. It is, however, the religious vacuum created by the secularist iconoclasts of Europe’s Christian civilisation, that provides the breeding ground for Muslim radicals. Europe has almost ceased to be Christian. Perhaps, as an inevitable consequence of this, Europe will become Muslim because a religious vacuum will inevitably be filled by a religion – no matter how hard secularists like Hirsi Ali may try to prevent it.
We always thought RD was a conservative publication, in line with the values of the Christian American heartland. Apparently, we were wrong. In Hirsi Ali RD is honouring a politician who feels more at ease among America’s liberals than among its conservatives. Unlike American liberals, however, Hirsi Ali is a brave and courageous woman. Perhaps RD’s “European of the Year Award” is meant for a domestic American audience, rather than for Europeans. Perhaps it is RD’s intention to show the so-called “blue” Americans-who-would-rather-be-Europeans that in contemporary Europe, where anti-religious secularists have wreaked moral destruction, courage is now required from secularists and Christians alike.