No doubt Deborah Scroggins believes she just published a dual biography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Dutch parliamentarian, and Aafia Siddiqui, jailed al-Qaida terrorist, and so she did. What may surprise the biographer, however, is that she also provided a third study: post-9/11 moral equivalence.
This begins with Scroggins’ outre decision to pair a peaceable writer and politician with a violent al-Qaida scientist who married Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s nephew and co-plotter after 9/11 as the “Wanted Women” of the book’s title (Wanted Women: Faith, Lies and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui).
Wanted by whom? Hirsi Ali is wanted for violating Islamic law against apostasy (leaving Islam is a capital offense) and criticizing Muhammad, Islam’s prophet (ditto). Siddiqui was wanted by the FBI as an accomplice of al-Qaida, an operational arm of Islamic law. How to knit the two together? Scroggins writes: “Like the bikini and the burka or the virgin and the whore, you couldn’t understand one without understanding the other.”
It’s difficult not to read this as a smear of Hirsi Ali, no less visceral for its flippancy. But it’s more than a noxious personal barb. Scroggins’ binary vision offers a new look at an old kink: moral equivalence among the intellectuals via perverse yin-yang fantasy.
A little housekeeping: No, I don’t know Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And yes, I read where Scroggins writes, “That is not to say they (Hirsi Ali and Siddiqui) are equivalent figures, morally or otherwise.” But this line appears on the last page of the book, after Scroggins has made the case that Hirsi Ali’s past political fight against Islam in Europe (highlighted as her fight for Muslim women’s rights) was somehow a self-aggrandizing version of jihad, of “tribal principle” – even, most reprehensibly, of terror-triggering extremism. Meanwhile, Siddiqui’s life of jihad-obsession unspools in alternating chapters.
The cumulative effect is an effort to even the score with Hirsi Ali. As the debate over Islam and Islamic terror erupted in Holland, Scroggins writes: “Some Dutch spoke of ‘the Ayaan effect,’ a spirit of fear and rancor that seemed to have bewitched the country.” Get it? It’s not the jihad, stupid, it’s “the Ayaan effect.”
By bizarre contrast, Scroggins regards Siddiqui’s jihad with empathy-nurturing neutrality. The result isn’t so much “Islam, the West, what’s the difference?” – the trope of moral equivalence during the U.S.-USSR Cold War. It’s more: Islam, the West, who is responsible for the violence? Who is reacting to whom? Who is putting on the burka to fend off the bikini? What virgin wouldn’t hate a whore? One more time, it’s all our fault.