According to reading, the Arab Human Development report speaks only of the Arab--and not Islamic--world. And her characterization that the Arab/Islamic world is "retarded" was a gross oversimplification. A quick glance at the United Nations Development Program's website  for Arab states clearly shows this.

But what left me truly flabbergasted by that NPR interview was Ali's statement about the West: "I know that Western societies have had a terrible past from the burning of women as witches all the way to what happened in the Second World War ... that's one part of the West. But there's the other part which is really developing institutions that safeguard the life and freedoms of the individual, and it would be a huge pity to confuse the two and to, you know, lump them together and describe the West only as a source of evil." Yet, she does that exact same thing when it comes to Islam and the Muslim world. Doesn't this smack of sheer hypocrisy?

As frustrating as all this is, it is nothing new from Ali. She is just the latest in a series of critics of Islam who generalize, stereotype, and mischaracterize the religion. Remember Dr. Wafa Sultan? She is a Syrian-born California psychiatrist who made headlines last year when she criticized Islam in the very same manner as Ayan Hirsi Ali does now.

In the now-famous interview on Al Jazeera just over one year ago on February 21, 2006, Dr. Sultan said: "The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality.

“It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings," Sultan said. The harsh implication of her words was that Islam--and not individual Muslims-- was "backward," "primitive," "barbaric," and "oppressive."

Ayan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan are very similar in many respects. Both are ex-Muslims. Both had terrible experiences with Islam that galvanized their decision to leave the faith. For Hirsi Ali the tipping factor was the brutal attacks of September 11, 2001: "I didn't question [Islam] seriously until after 9/11. Bin Laden defined the world into Muslims and non-Muslims, and these had to either be converted or killed. I asked myself where I stood after I saw the pictures of people jumping out of the World Trade Center," Ali told Metro. 

"As a Muslim, I had to ask if I agreed with that. I was saddened to see Bin Laden's citations were from the Koran and were consistent with the Islam I grew up with,” Ali said. “It is just that we were passive until then. Now we had to take sides. I had completed a political science degree and could no longer use ignorance as an excuse. I had to make my own path." For Dr. Sultan, the impetus to reject Islam was her witnessing the murder of her medical school professor in Syria in 1979 by Muslim gunmen shouting "God is great." Of this, Dr. Sultan said: "At that point, I lost my trust in their God and began to question all our teaching. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point. I had to leave. I had to look for another God."

Their experiences are real, and their choice to leave Islam is theirs to make. But the problem is that both women make very similar one-sided accusations and generalizations about the evils of Islam and how this religion is the sole reason for the depressing state of the Arab and Muslim worlds. They seem to be reading from the exact same playbook, and it's getting annoying.

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