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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Puritans are not our allies

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel contains an illuminating vignette from Hirsi Ali's early time in Holland, living in a shared bungalow in the Zeewolde Reception Centre. On pages 194-95, she describes a conversation in her bungalow with a young Ethiopian woman, Mina.

As Hirsi Ali recounts it, Mina suggests that she (Hirsi Ali) take off her scarf and long skirt. "You're pretty," Mina says.

The conversation then proceeds as follows:

Hirsi Ali: Why should I uncover my naked skin? Don't you have any shame? What are you hoping to achieve? Don't you know how it affects men?

Mina: I wear these skirts because I like having pretty legs. They won't be pretty for long, and I want to enjoy them. If anyone else enjoys them so much the better.

Hirsi Ali: This is precisely the opposite of what I have been brought up to believe. (At this point, other young women join in on Mina's side, and Hirsi Ali adds, "But if men see women dressed like you are now, with your arms and everything naked, then they will become confused and sexually tempted. They will be blinded by desire.")

Mina: I don't think it's really like that. And you know, if they do get tempted it's not such a big deal.

As the conversation unfolds, it is apparent that, years later, Hirsi Ali, as author, is gently mocking her younger, more puritanical self.

However, you don't have to believe the kind of religious rubbish that Hirsi Ali was brought up to believe to take such puritanical attitudes to any sexual display. What is even more ridiculous than such attitudes from ignorant religious fundamentalists is the expression of similar attitudes from educated secular thinkers who imagine that they are thereby advocating a "progressive" or "feminist" viewpoint, but are using this to rationalise their underlying puritanical value systems.

These members of our local Taliban deserve nothing but our contempt and mockery. Whatever else they are, they are not our allies in the cause of freedom and reason. If anything, we should regard them as traitors.

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