Oh what tangled webs we weave…

The recent and remarkable implosion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali should serve as a reminder for us all.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (whose real name is Ayaan Hirsi Magan) was the perennial anti-Islamic gadfly in the Dutch parliament. Her notoriety and public adulation were based on the now familiar narrative of the courageous but oppressed Muslim woman who reaches the west only to emerge from the chrysalis of Islamic “backwardism” into the light of secular liberalism.

Except that she wasn’t and she didn’t.

Ayaan claimed that she sought asylum, fleeing from a forced marriage in Somalia. The truth however was more prosaic; Ayaan was a Somali leaving a failed marriage (which she had happily and voluntarily entered into) and was living safely in Kenya for 11 years before moving to Germany prior to seeking political asylum in the Netherlands. Like many unscrupulous and desperate economic or class migrants she lied extensively on her application, refashioning her story in a more heroic light.

In so doing she obtained for herself not only European citizenship but also launched a career as a self-styled anti-Islamic crusader. The adulation and cause celebre were as predictable as the self-righteous anti-Islamic outrage amongst the parochial native-born Dutch.

Like most liars, Ayaan’s mistake was in overreaching and not giving the invented narrative away once it had served its original purpose. A combination of hubris and a new income stream will almost always do that.

It is illustrative of Ayaan’s incomprehension of a free society with an independent media that she expected that such an egregious deception, especially in a public person would not be exhumed. Her party, a standard bearer in Dutch politics against Muslim migration has found it especially galling that its most incendiary advocate has imploded in such a fashion. Supporters have hinted at a darkly Islamist conspiracy, as the real author of her downfall.

Although fellow anti-Islamic travelers at the American Enterprise Institute across the Atlantic have rescued her, they will find her damaged goods. Her fraudulent personal narrative dramatically weakens her usefulness as anti-Muslim crusader. It is likely that she will sink like a stone, in similar circumstances to her spiritual predecessor Taslima Nasreen, whose true literary talent only became apparent once she had been rescued by secular modernity:

“My mother’s eyes, at the end, became yellowish, egg-yoke like.

Her belly swelled rapidly like an overly full water tank
 ready to burst at any moment.

No longer able to stand, or sit, or even move her fingers, 
 she just lay there.
She, at the end, did not look like Mother any more.

Relatives came each morning, every evening,”

Whilst the natural reaction amongst Muslims would be to gloat, we must remain mindful of the ultimate author of these events. The lesson for Muslims is that many of us have an often elastic and fractious relationship with the truth. If this seems a harsh judgment to be made in this place, then it only because the criticism is public and not because it is erroneous or exaggerated.

It is irrelevant to compare Muslims with the general non-Muslim Australian population, whose rate of truth telling on fundamental issues is probably no better, and may indeed be worse. Our yardstick for behavior comes from our tradition and our supposedly better understanding of the consequences.

Imagine for example the difference it would make to our community if one could expect to be told the truth, the whole truth and the hidden truth, in matters of trade, law and marriage from one’s Muslim brethren. Imagine also, that to tell a lie would be an indelible stain on one’s reputation that could not be easily erased. What you now imagine is what pre-modern Muslim societies resembled for centuries.

I do not intend to say that my truthfulness is a measure above anyone else’s, or that I have never told a lie, but rather that as a community we have lost a fundamental and not a peripheral aspect of our faith.

Issues of truth telling in important matters of commerce and trade converted large groups of people to Islam in Sri Lanka (where the mercantile class is still predominantly Muslim), Indonesia and Australia. This is not a eulogized or romanticized past but a well-documented part of our history. Workers on the telegraph line between Darwin and Adelaide gave their pay to their Muslim cameleers (with whom they shared nothing in common) to be deposited on their behalf in banks in Adelaide, never imagining that the Muslims would do anything to betray that trust.

By contrast modern “progressive/enlightened/educated” Muslims seem only to be able to recite the qualities of a virtuous Muslim life, rather than live them. Muslim spokespeople are flawless in the mealy mouthed denunciation of terrorism, spinning bad news, gilding the Lilly, deflecting criticism, denying responsibility, crying racism (see previous entry regarding Turkish nationalism), but are conspicuously absent for the roll call of courageous truth tellers.

To reclaim the fundamentals of our faith we must do more than model a miswak, a short thawb and a bushy beard, we must take the prospective buyer of our home for a tour around it, pointing out defects. When we receive less for it at sale, only then will we understand the true greatness of our ancestors and the true smallness of our own religiosity.