The following is a profile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Danish woman and a former Muslim involved in the Liberal party of the Netherlands, I believe, who is now in hiding because of the Muhammad cartoon controversy. She is the epitome of Islamic moderation and feminism.
Written by: Anthony McIntyre
On: 12 March 2006
Taken from The Blanket: A Journal of Protest and Dissent
When I first learned of a self-confessed ‘dissident of Islam’, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she was under death threat for scriptwriting the film, Submission. Her collaborator on the project, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered in Amsterdam by a theocratic fascist determined that there would be no free speech. The film sought to explore repression of women within Islamic culture.
Born in Somalia in 1967, she underwent genital mutilation as a child. When her family moved to Saudi Arabia she was compelled to wear a veil and remain indoors. She was educated in a secondary school in Kenya. In 1992 she escaped to Holland to avoid being forcibly married to a cousin from Canada. There she furthered her education by taking a degree in political science. In 2002 she joined the Dutch Social Democratic Party, but switched allegiance the following year to a more right wing party known as the VVD. A humanist who does not believe in God or the afterlife, she is a former Muslim who came around to sharing the views of the murdered Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn that Islam was a backward religion. Opposition to her attempts to raise this onto the agenda of the Social Democratic Party led her to move to the VVD. On its ticket she became a member of the Dutch parliament. Since then a Dutch poll found that she was the second most popular politician in the Netherlands.
Much of her energy in Holland has been used highlighting the suppression of dissenting opinions within Islam. She believed that Islam was such a tightly controlled religion that its rigidity precluded any self-reflection, which led to any critique being viewed as offensive.
"These Islamists seek to convince other Muslims that their way of life is the best. But when opponents of Islamism try to expose the fallacies in the teachings of Muhammad then they are accused of being offensive, blasphemous, socially irresponsible – even Islamophobic or racist."
For her, real offence lies elsewhere. ‘If you’re a Muslim woman and you read the Koran, and you read in there that you should be raped if you say ‘no’ to your husband, that is offensive.’ She has actively promoted the need for women’s emancipation within Islam. In doing so she has provoked the ire of Dutch Muslims who label her a traitor to Islam. She seems undeterred. ‘What these people are telling you is simply, "Leave us alone, and let us continue to oppress our women." No civil society must accept this, no government must accept this.’
"I am a feminist who fights for the integrity of our body, for the right of all girls to go to school, to learn, to decide when and whom they want to marry, when they want to get pregnant. I fight for them to live, love and still believe in God … you cannot simply kill your sister or your daughter; you cannot lock her up in the house, cut her genitalia out or marry her against her will."
She was forced to leave the country after receiving death threats as a result of her having collated information on Muslim women who had been subject to violence both physical and sexual. She only ventured back into Holland when she was guaranteed police protection. Determined that she will never submit to theocratic dictat she extols the values of free speech:
"I come from a very poor country, Somalia, where I never knew freedom of opinion. I still find it quite electrifying to be able to say what I think and what I feel. Also, the fact that my government protects me gives me strength. In any Muslim country, my head would be chopped off for what I have been saying: in Somalia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and even in Jordan. I am probably the first Muslim woman of my generation who has been subjected to things like the excision of my clitoris and forced marriage and who articulates her opinions in public."
She also hits out at the treatment gay people are forced to endure in many Muslim societies. ‘In Islam, homosexuals are killed and disowned by their families and in some countries, Egypt for example, they are put in cages.’
She fears that while many Muslims are peaceful, tolerant and devoid of persecutionist zeal – ‘as far as I am concerned they have every right to be faithful to their convictions’ – within Islam exists ‘a hard-line Islamist movement that rejects democratic freedoms and wants to destroy them.’
The recent cartoon controversy which led her to sign a ‘manifesto against totalitarianism‘ along with eleven other writers, led her to call for others to republish the cartoons.
"Shame on those papers and TV channels who lacked the courage to show their readers the caricatures in The Cartoon Affair. These intellectuals live off free speech but they accept censorship. They hide their mediocrity of mind behind noble-sounding terms such as ‘responsibility’ and ‘sensitivity’… Evil governments like Saudi Arabia stage "grassroots" movements to boycott Danish milk and yoghurt, while they would mercilessly crush a grassroots movement fighting for the right to vote."
In spite of her commitment to so many progressive causes, on the economic front her views are right wing. A seemingly naïve believer in the American dream she has little to say about the destitution inflicted on the most marginalised within US society by rampant capitalism. And she views the welfare state as undermining the power of immigrants to make a go of it. She seems to lack any concept of structural discrimination, thinking that self-reliance is the key to success. It is difficult to see how poverty can produce the type of enlightenment she so vigorously argues for.
Her life’s philosophy is perhaps best gleaned from recent comments she made in the German city of Berlin:
I think that the prophet was wrong to have placed himself and his ideas above critical thought.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have subordinated women to men.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have decreed that gays be murdered.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have said that apostates must be killed.
He was wrong in saying that adulterers should be flogged and stoned, and the hands of thieves should be cut off.
He was wrong in saying that those who die in the cause of Allah will be rewarded with paradise.
He was wrong in claiming that a proper society could be built only on his ideas.
Demanding that people who do not accept Muhammad’s teachings should refrain from drawing him is not a request for respect but a demand for submission.
It seems incredible that for holding these views, the theocratic fascists who constitute only a minority in the Islamic world can force her to live under a cloud of fear.