1. The combination of information and entertainment.
2. A class of entertainment combined with journalism developed for 24-hour
Television news networks. Designed to instill emotional responses from viewers in between actual “interesting” news developments of national interest and
In the 21st century, the “world’s oldest profession” traditionally reserved for those “depraved” women and lascivious men with licentious appetites has transformed into a lucrative, multi-million dollar industry. This profitable enterprise’s main commodity consists of peddling crude “info-tainment” and “racism as criticism” rhetoric masquerading as intellectual, authoritative scholarship. Similar to that unsavory and much maligned profession, this particular industry both requires and employs media courtesans, as well as their respective employers, and a healthy supply of loyal customers.
Specifically, the act of employing Muslims, especially but not exclusively Muslim women (with a strong preference to non-practicing, ‘enlightened women’), to bash and vilify Muslims, Islam, and “Islamic” culture certainly constitutes one of the oldest acts in the infotainment circus. The setup goes something like this: use a minority, preferably a non-threatening, aesthetically pleasing female, like a marionette puppet, to assail and mock those interests and reforms that would benefit that same minority. Why? Because these same reforms unfortunately are a plague to the ideological detriment of an elite majority (mostly affluent, influential White men).
The most recent anointed ringleader of this ever increasing gallery popularized by right wing think tanks and media pundits, as well as several left leaning liberals, is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is a Somalian born, former Dutch Parliament member; Muslim-turned-staunch atheist; pro-feminism but anti-multiculturalism pundit/author of the current best selling memoir, Infidel.
Before accepting a fellowship in 2006 with her current employer – the highly influential, right wing, conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born Ayaan Hirsi Magan) flirted with notoriety and death threats due to her professional relationship with brutally murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. His killing in 2004 at the hands of Muhammad Bouyeri, a Dutch-born radical of Moroccan roots, stemmed from the 11-minute movie, Submission Part 1 written by Ali and directed by Van Gogh. The controversial film condemned violence against women in Muslim societies by depicting Quranic verses, those apparently used to justify such behavior, written on the half-naked bodies of actresses. The subsequent media frenzy after the murder and death threats against Ali’s life, as well as her self-appointed call for “Islamic reform” transformed her into a lightening rod of controversy.
Unfortunately, evidence last year emerged indicating that Ali lied while applying for Dutch citizenship, promptly forcing her to resign from the Dutch Parliament as a member of the right wing, anti-immigration VVD party. The deceit nearly cost Ali her Dutch citizenship, eventually led to the collapse of her party, and embroiled the Parliament in lengthy, stifling controversy. The last segment of her memoir rather quickly glosses over these events and transforms her into the “victim” of forces seeking to silence her unpopular rhetoric.
Again, the marionette puppet, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was used by the majority, the right wing VVD party, to attack beneficial reforms involving immigration and cultural awareness. The irony? Ali received asylum in the Netherlands at 22 after claiming that she: 1) fled the Somalian Civil War (In reality, she was living in Kenya for 10 years with a refugee status) and 2) feared honor crimes by her Somalian clan as retribution for running away from an arranged marriage. Although she admitted to fabricating her age and name when initially applying for citizenship, a Dutch documentary introduced evidence that her life was never in danger, that she had relatives in the Netherlands who helped her gain asylum, and eventually her family and “ex-husband” peacefully agreed to and acknowledged her “divorce.”
Immigrants escaping persecution or economic hardships routinely lie and fabricate to taste certain freedoms of their host country. However, it takes a rare breed of hypocrisy cultivated by Ali to malign and persecute others like her by joining an anti immigration, pro “assimilation” party like the VVD whose “hard line” anti-immigration stance introduced tough citizenship tests that have expelled number of immigrants for failing to meet the new criteria for political asylum. Those expelled should have taken a cue from Somalian born immigrant Ali and simply lied, joined an anti immigration political party, then created a successful, lucrative personality embarking to “reform” and “save” the same immigrants she so despises.
Her memoir – which is well written, readable and detailed with interesting, piquant characters – sheds light into what formed her absolutist, negative worldview of “Islamic” culture. Ali’s “crusade” to reform “Islamic” practices – which are actually non-Islamic, culturally misogynistic and tribal practices of honor killings, forced circumcisions and female subordination – reflect her turbulent and volatile childhood. She was born an innocent youth in Somalia in 1969 to political turmoil inaugurating the brutal dictatorship of Muhammad Siad Barre. As a child, she was forced into political exile along with her family due to the anti-Communist, anti-Barre political machinations organized by her intellectual, Western educated father, Hirsi Magan Isse. Her subsequent teenage years were spent ping-ponging to Saudi Arabia, where she suffered casual racism from Arabs for her black, African features and gender oppression under Saudi’s Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Thereafter, the family moved to Ethopia and eventually settled in Kenya for 10 years. Along the way, Ali voluntarily flirted with Islam, acquainting herself with the Muslim Brotherhood, reading the Quran, and wearing the hijab (Islamic head covering), which gave her a sense of empowerment. She writes that Western literature and culture featuring empowered, liberated female characters served as inspiration and hope for a better life during these turbulent years.
Granted, her extremely complicated and fascinating life contained hardships, but can that experience be leveraged to castigate all of Islam, Islamic history, Islamic cultures and Muslim immigrants? Should it excuse and endorse such inflammatory, broad and obscenely generalized rhetoric by Ali and her intellectual cronies, including but not limited to Irshad Manji (author of The Trouble with Islam and founder of “Project Ijtihad”), Wafa Sultan (atheist, former Muslim pundit), and Salman Rushdie (modernist author of the fatwah-certified Satanic Verses):
It was not a lunatic fringe who felt this way about America and the West. I knew that a vast majority of Muslims would see the attacks as justified retaliation against the infidel enemies of Islam. (Ali describing the mentality of the 9/11 hijackers.) That’s like asking if I see positive sides to Nazism, communism, Catholicism. Of course Islam preaches generosity and kindness and taking care of the poor and elderly and so on – but these values aren’t limited to Islam. (When asked if Ali sees any “positive” sides of Islam.) What I am pointing out is that only within Islam today is literalism the mainstream. … Those of us who are “well-educated professionals” (Muslims) have no clue how to debate, dissent, revise or reform because we have not been introduced to the virtues of critical thinking. (Irshad Manji describing the intellectual condition of modern Muslims.) …A clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another that belongs to the 21st century … a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. (Wafa Sultan referring to the current conflict between the “West” and “militant Muslims.”) For a vast number of “believing” Muslim men, “Islam” stands, in a jumbled, half-examined way, not only for the fear of God – the fear more than the love, one suspects – but also … a more particularized loathing (and fear) of the prospect that their own immediate surroundings could be taken over – “Westoxicated” – by the liberal Western-style way of life. (Salman Rushdie in the New York Times.)
Fortunately, a growing number of Western and Muslim intellectuals do not share these simplistic generalizations of complex, diverse world cultures. In a recent New York Times review of Infidel, Dutch intellectual Ian Buruma stated, “But much though I respect her courage, I’m not convinced that Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s absolutist view of a perfectly enlightened West at war with the demonic world of Islam offers the best perspective from which to get this done.” Similarly, a very intelligent and critical review of Ali’s work by The Economist, unlike the slavish, knee jerk praise afforded to her by most American media outlets, suggested, “The kind of problems that Ms Hirsi Ali describes in Infidel are all too human to be blamed entirely on Islam. … But the West’s tendency to seek simplistic explanations is a weakness that Ms Hirsi Ali also shows she has been happy to exploit.”
One hopes a more nuanced, accurate and diverse scholarship accurately reflecting the complexity of the Muslim world emerges from the infotainment field. Unfortunately, the rogues mentioned, such as Ali, Manji, Sultan and Rushdie, all share some traits:
1) A complete lack of academic scholarship in Islamic thought or rigorous religious studies.
2) A detachment from the very same communities they are seeking to reform either due to their atheism or self confessed “non practicing” lifestyle.
3) A lucrative relationship and sponsorship with wealthy, influential academic/political benefactors (Ali employed by AEI, Wafa Sultan by Israeli run MEMRI group, and Manji endorsed by Oprah, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Ms. Magazine and Yale University)
Although Ali and her ilk’s intentions and ends might, arguably, be noble and sincere, the means by which they seek to accomplish these goals reek of hypocrisy, manipulation and simplicity. Perhaps if they, along with their wealthy donors, bothered to listen to the voices of educated, practicing Muslim men and women, they might learn that the world is not painted with two ideological colors: good and evil. These average Muslims might also tell our incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Sgt. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, the difference between a Sunni or Shiite. (When asked whether al Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite, our intelligence chairman remarked: “Al Qaeda, they have both. Predominantly – probably Shiite.” And the correct answer? Al Qaeda is strictly Sunni.)
Sadly, we currently have Ayaan Hirsi Ali, her best selling memoir “Infidel,” and millions of satisfied customers yearning for more histrionic theatrics from our very own info-tainment circus. Let’s hope Ali and her ilk learn that once their trick turns stale or too threatening, her respective ringleaders will quickly and mercilessly substitute her position with an upgraded “act”. After all, they don’t call it “the world’s oldest profession” for nothing.
 Salman Rushdie, Islam and the Response to Terror, The New York Times, Nov