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Burka-clad women walk in the old city of Kabul (AFP/Getty) 

A while ago, a BBC producer phoned to tell me I had written a "controversial" book. I knew that already, and gathered from the teeth-sucking sound coming down the line that she did not approve.

"So," she continued, "we've lined up four guests to argue against you." 

I told her to go away — maybe I used a stronger term — and then thought about her predicament. As a biased broadcaster, she wanted to hear my book denounced, but she could not risk organising a one-on-one debate. Maybe I would have come out on top. More probably, some listeners would have agreed with me, others with my opponent, as is the normal way of things. By arranging her show to make it four against one, however, she could maintain the illusion of impartiality while creating the impression in listeners' mind that the consensus was overwhelmingly against arguments she found uncomfortable. In the interests of "balance" and of letting "everyone have their say", she would fill 80 per cent of the airtime with advocates of her own political position. I have watched out for rigged debates ever since. They are the surest signal the BBC dares send that an idea does not deserve a hearing in polite society. 

Ophelia Benson did not quite get the four-on-one treatment when she appeared on Radio 3's cultural talk show Nightwaves to discuss a "controversial" book she has co-authored with Jeremy Stangroom. They gave her a mere two opponents, and the presenter tried to be fair. Still, when one adversary stopped disparaging her, the other started, as the BBC flashed warning signs to listeners to ignore her.

If they missed the point, the press banged it home. The Independent denounced Benson and Stangroom "as inflammatory in the extreme"; authors who produce "torrents of invective" and "show no desire to go beyond name-calling and distortion." The Guardian accused them of "crudeness and lack of insight". It was "staggered anyone wanted to publish" them, and concluded that only a base desire to make money could explain the release of a "profoundly intellectually dishonest", "hysterical" and "bizarre" work. My own newspaper, the Observer, was slightly more temperate, but not so the casual reader would notice. Benson and Stangroom were not original thinkers but had "trawled through newspaper articles". They "splutter with righteous anger", their style "clunky", "hammering" and "repetitive", their arguments "flimsy" and "deadening".

Readers who imagine that Benson and Stangroom were on the receiving end of the fullest stomach-load of bile literary London has brought up this year because they were making the case for white supremacy or the return of the death penalty do not understand the dark turn Western thought took between the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Benson and Stangroom's book is Does God Hate Women?, which the predecessors of today's critics would have hailed as a feminist classic.

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Eve
September 18th, 2009
9:09 PM
Good article. Pity the book's actually written badly. And I hope Hitchens isn't your hero, Cohen. You write far better than he does already.

M Sacks
September 18th, 2009
8:09 AM
In Judaism we make women shave their heads and wear wigs. They have no rights over property and we can have affairs with goyim because they are classed as non-human.

Anonymous
September 16th, 2009
5:09 PM
"I accept that this may seem an odd thing to wish for, but what the world needs now is an uncompromisingly militant feminist movement." Aye! Liberals and "progressives" are starting to act suspiciously as they did in the 20's

msmarmitelover
September 9th, 2009
10:09 PM
Just as the middle classes ferment revolutions, it takes a man to write about feminism. Or perhaps this article wouldn't be taken seriously if it were written by a woman? Well done anyway...good piece...

Amanda
September 9th, 2009
12:09 PM
Well said Nick Cohen! The fear of being thought racist for attacking customs and attitudes which are by any other standard profoundly inhumane is one the deserves the most vigorous opposition.

Andy D
September 9th, 2009
12:09 AM
Nick, when are you going to give evidence for your very serious accusations against Nick Davies? if you can't, when will you withdraw them?

winter
September 8th, 2009
11:09 AM
Just a thought, but might Stangroom and Benson's book not have been so widely criticised because it isn't actually a very good piece of work and was lucky to even get reviewed where it did, being as it is yet another anti-religion book written by unqualified bloggers - no reviews AT ALL in the right-wing press including Standpoint, after all. Having flicked through it in a shop, it seems that the accusations of clunkiness and poverty of argument are pretty much spot-on, as are those of Benson being a fundamentalist - it's pretty hard to deny, and I note that Nick Cohen doesn't actually do so, but instead claims that such accusations are lazy. And Buruma and Garton Ash are justified in their claims about hirsi Ali. She *is* an enlightenment fundamentalist, self-confessedly, and she *is* an absolutist. notwithstanding how badly she was treated in her earlier life, her views on Islam are pretty hardcore to say the least - calling it an intrinsically violent religion and claiming that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant because of the influence of Mohammad, for instance, views that i understand a lot of standpoint's readers share but which are intensely debatable at best and I sincerely doubt that Cohen would agree with them - at least in print.

gsw
September 7th, 2009
12:09 PM
Stating that the English police, in an English country, cannot interfere to prevent illegal domestic violence because ‘we haven't got the right to impose our values on another culture' is just one more example of NewSpeak. While claiming that Birmingham or Luton is 'another culture' is downright stupid and inexcusable.

Susie
September 7th, 2009
10:09 AM
There's something patronising about the implication that nothing is being done by women within the areas and countries concerned, so it is up to their Western sisters to show the way. No mention of for example Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini's recent book "Murder in the Name of Honour", which received much coverage in the British print media and on eg BBc Radio 4's Woman's Hour. In Iraq, there are many courageous Iraq feminists working in conditions of tremendous danger to fight the injustices suffered by women: one side-effect of the war in Iraq has been a sharp deterioration in the status and conditions of women. The issues around Iraqi women are examined in detail in the work of the Iraqi SOAS academic Nadje Sadig al-Ali including the books "Iraqi Women" and "What Kind of Liberation?" (the last written with Nicola Pratt). The Iraqi woman filmmaker Maysoun Pachachi has also been working hard to empower Iraqi women through training them in filmmaking to record their lives. Egyptian feminist and medical doctor Nawal Sadawi has for years campaigned against female genital mutilation. There are feisty women working in every country to fight the oppression of women. Issues of child brides being forced into marriage, and of the punitive attitude towards rape victims, are regularly covered in the media and condemned in countries including Yemen and Saudi Arabia. There is a massive tussle going on within all these socities, and women, and a good many men, are far from passive acceptors when it comes to violations of women's rights. the 2005 UNDP Arab Human Development Report, researched and written by a large team of Arabs, male and female, was on women's empowerment, and like the other AHDRs was highly critical of the status quo.

Rucker
September 5th, 2009
7:09 PM
Sue - your comment unfortunately ignores the actual ugly truth. It is not the regimes that enforce the subjugation of women. It's islam, the teachings of islam and the hadith.

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