Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji are two pals who were born Muslim and have spent the intervening few decades critiquing the religion's legacy of bad things. They've both written bestselling books and acquired British intellectual blowhard pundit advocates — Chris Hitchens backs Ali, Andrew Sullivan is more a Manji person — and today they're compared/contrasted in a New York Times piece that is sure to hit home for anyone who ever struggled with a baseless/stubborn/eroding belief in a Higher Power! See, Ali is an atheist; Manji is a Muslim. Like her boy Andrew Sullivan, Manji has clung to her faith even though she is gay and the institution deems that grounds for damnation; she roots her problems with Islam in "Arab tribal culture" and says the "Koran has the raw materials to be thoughtful and humane," while Hitchens "believes that it's a self-defeating exercise for a declared lesbian to try to bring about an Islamic Reformation."

Hirsi Ali, for her part, blames Islam — and not a lunatic fringe — for 9/11 and would like everyone to renounce this idea there is a fucking God already. Hirsi Ali, from our previous readings, would seem to be kind of high on her own awesome Powers of Intellect, and irritatingly self-promotional about it, but this strikes at the heart of the division between the two women's worldviews.

The writer Paul Berman suggests that the difference between them may be due to the fact that Ms. Manji was raised in the warm, liberal, welcoming precincts of British Columbia, where religion could be a comfort rather than a burden, where pluralism was an assumption, a fact of life. (Ms. Manji was kicked out of her Islamic religious school for asking too many questions, but before that she had been cared for at a Baptist church, and at age 8 even won its Most Promising Christian of the Year award.) Ms. Hirsi Ali's early years, by contrast, consisted of dictatorship, war, patriarchy, genital cutting, confinement and beatings so severe that she once ended up in a hospital with a fractured skull. Ms. Manji offers her own support for Mr. Berman's conjecture: "Had I grown up in a Muslim country, I'd probably be an atheist in my heart."

Which may be true; the point is she is willing to admit she doesn't know. Whether that's lazy or just honest is, I guess, the real question.

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Muslim Rebel Sisters: At Odds With Islam And Each Other [NY Times]
In Good Faith [NY Times]