Since 2007 is getting “old,” I guess I’d better finish this one off!
In a world without a preeminent leader — for good or evil — how does one choose a “Person of the Year”, and who do I think should be singled out for that title for 2007?
The question is one of historical significance and of how to identify it in a journalistic context.
In choosing someone, one must identify the nature of the world events in fundamental terms, and then determine whose actions are likely to be important in shaping that world in the near and long term. And to do both these things properly, one needs a philosophy of history –a generalized empirical outlook concerning historical change, integrated with a fundamental philosophy.
As of yet, however, no such philosophy of history exists, which makes the choice difficult. Still, I would note that the Middle East has quite evidently become the fulcrum of world events, and thus it seems appropriate to select an individual who is having–or may potentially have–and important impact on life there, or–perhaps more importantly–on the way that the Middle East is viewed abroad.
In terms of actual impact, Mahmoud Ahmedinehad is clearly the most influential leader in the region. To make him “Person of the Year” for 2007, however, would be like having made Hitler “Person of the Year” in 1933. Ahmedinejad has repudiated limits on Iran’s “sovereignty,” as Hitler did in 1933 at the World Disarmament Conference, but he, like Hitler at that early juncture, is far from dominating world events.
It seems more fitting to choose someone who may be helping to change Middle Eastern culture and/or the cultural response of the rest of the World to the Middle East even though, as in 1933, there may be no one in a position to stop the coming debacle that Iran is intent on creating.
If there is going to be genuine, long-term progress in Middle Eastern culture, it will come from intellectuals who are able to straddle the divide between the West and Islam, and find ways to transpose Western values into the Middle Eastern context. The type of individual I’m referring to will resemble a Namik Kemal in Turkish history. (Note: Wikipedia’s entry on Kemal, to which I have linked, does not sufficiently relate his importance to the progressive transformation of the Ottoman culture. I will be discussing Kemal and others like him in my upcoming course, The Islamist Entanglement)
Along these lines, I would choose Ayaan Hirsi Ali as Person of the Year for 2007.
Selected by Time as one of the most influential people in the world in 2005, Ali is the most heroic critic of Islam I can think of–especially since she is a woman. 2007 revealed yet again the atrocities that Islamic societies perpetrate on women. A few years ago, 16-yr old Atefah Sahaaleh was sentenced to death and publicly hung in Iran for “crimes against chastity.” Her crime was to be raped! Since then a steady stream of horror stories of injustice have revealed what it is to be a woman in an Islamist regime. Another Iranian woman, Nazanin Fatehi, may have escaped the worst, but more recently, “the Girl from Qatif” was gang-raped, and then punished by a Saudi Court for being the victim of a violent crime.
Ali, whose family escaped from the Islamic backwater of Somalia, herself suffered female genital mutilation and escaped an arranged marriage. She obtained asylum in the Netherlands, where she served in its parliament, colaborated on the Dutch film Submission, by Theo Van Gogh, and recently authored her autobiography Infidel.
At present, she is the most important advocate of the modernization, i.e. disintegration, of Islam. In essence, what Ali stands for is the treatment of Islam as a historical creation which cannot act as a guide to modern life. Thus she stands explicitly for a transformation equivalent to that which Western civilization has implicitly undertaken with regards to Christianity. No idea could be more important for transforming the world in a positive way, with one exception (the rebirth of the United States as nation that consistenly upholds individual rights).
That Ali lives outside of the Islamic world may limit the impact she has on historical change there, and may weaken the case for making her a “Person of the Year.” Kemal, by contrast, did live in exile from Turkey, but also returned there and was very influential in transforming that country’s culture. Ali, however, has a far better grasp of what the Islamic world really needs to achieve genuine progress. It may take others yet to absorb her ideas and give them currency among Muslim women and others in Islamic countries, but if that happens, a great positive step will have been taken. Let’s hope I have reason to pick Ali again in the coming years.