Ayaan Hirsi Ali has an article in Newsweek that’s advertised on this week’s cover under the giant headline, “Muslim Rage – How We Can End It”. (The cover, incidentally, which depicts berobed Salafis howling in outrage, is representative of an irksome stereotype. Most theocratic Muslims look and act much as we do.) Most of the essay is made up of recounting the experiences she and Salman Rushdie have undergone. Only the last few paragraphs, indeed, are given over to expounding on her optimistic thesis. She writes

Utopian ideologies have a short lifespan…It is clear, as we saw in Iran in 2009 and elsewhere, that if the philosophy of the Islamists is fully and forcefully implemented, those who elected them will end up disillusioned…

After the disillusion and bitterness will come a painful lesson: that it is foolish to derive laws for human affairs from gods and prophets. Just like the Iranian people have begun to, the Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, and perhaps Syrians and others will come to this realization. In one or two or three decades we will see the masses in these countries take to the streets—and perhaps call for American help—to liberate them from the governments they elected.

There has never been a period where Muslims haven’t thought that laws for human affairs can be derived from their creed. The extent to which their legislatures are based on religious teachings and the scale and severity of laws within them varies and they might grow more secular and lenient if and when radical governments such as that of the Muslim Brotherhood collapse. To suggest that liberalism is going to suddenly flourish, though, is wildly optimistic. It assumes that an alien ideology that has little or no support within these nations is going replace the dominant and generally traditional culture before I’m in a position to get over 50s car insurance. Hirsi Ali must have a great idea for how we’re going to make this happen, right?

We must be patient. America needs to empower those individuals and groups who are already disenchanted with political Islam by helping find and develop an alternative.

I can get behind the recommendation of patience but what does “empower” mean? Taking them to our countries like latter-day Charles de Gaulles or trying to turn them into revolutionary forces within theirs? Arming them and funding them for violent resistance or smuggling books and tapes to them so they can learn and teach? Who exactly is it she wants to “empower”, anyway? What influence do they hold, and how can we expect them to gain it? What are their ambitions should they become powerful? As it stands, Hirsi Ali’s advice is no more helpful than if she’d written, “Imagine all the people – sharing all the world”.

An annoying habit of commentators is to act is they have the cure for the ailments of the world and then offer prescriptions that are so ambiguous as to be of no help whatsoever. Imagine going to the doctor with meningitis and being told that you should ‘stand up to it’ or ‘empower’ yourself. You’d be pissed off, would you not? Yet when people claim to have solutions for the rather more complex and consequential problems of the world we tolerate this wibble. Next time someone claims to have the wisdom with which to resolve the dilemmas of millions bark “DETAILS” into their face until they give substantive instructions or admit that things aren’t quite as simple as they’d presumed.

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