Thursday, February 22, 2007

Will Muslim Women Rise to the Challenge?

Since a major difference between western culture and Islam is the position and rights of women, and this issue is a major cause of Muslim anger, in my view a very important key to overcoming Islamic terrorism and even to an eventual good outcome of the noble experiment in Iraq rests with Muslim women like Homa Arjomand, the courageous Canadian immigrant from Iran who was instrumental in defeating the imposition of the Sharia there.

There is also Maryam Namazie*, who, despite her anti-American views, is to be commended for leading a fight to save Nazanin Fatehi from execution by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and who is a leader in the resistance to the regime currently in power in Iran.

And especially there is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, perhaps the most courageous woman in the world today.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 26/01/2007
Kerry O'Brien interviews anti-Islamic author

KERRY O’BRIEN: When Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered by an Islamist in Amsterdam in 2004 for directing a film called Submission, that was highly critical of violence against Muslim women, the killer staked a death threat to the film's author, Ayaan Hirsi Ali through Van Gogh's heart. Hirsi Ali was a Somalian refugee who fled to the Netherlands 14 years ago to escape an arranged Muslim marriage. She became a passionate activist against Islam's perceived discrimination against women and one of Europe's most controversial political figures, serving briefly in the Dutch Parliament before being forced to resign for allegedly lying to get asylum.

She continues to attract the ire of many Muslims and other critics in the west for continuing to revile her religion from her base at a conservative Washington think tank, arguing that Islam is simply not compatible with liberal democracies. Hirsi Ali has previously written a book depicting women in Islam as caged virgins and will have a second book on her own life, called Infidel, which will be published next month. She has previously been named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people and has just received the Martin Luther King Jr award for her activism. I spoke with Hirsi Ali today from New York.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I guess this is a tough question to answer in a few short sentences. but how do you summarise your journey from fervent Muslim supporter to anti-Islam campaigner?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: In one sentence, I would say it's a journey in time. It’s a journey from a pre-modern society to a very modern society. From a tribal society to a nation state which believes in citizens - which has citizens. So that's how, I mean, in a very short way that's how I would describe it. And it's also a journey to enlightenment.

KERRY O’BRIEN: When you arrived in the Netherlands, what was it that shocked you in to taking up this campaign against Islam?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: Most Muslim women in the Netherlands, whether they're from Turkey or Morocco or Somalia or Afghanistan, were used to some form of oppression. Of course, it differs from family to family and it differs from people who live in cities to people who live in rural areas, but it was as if that was something that we were used to. As an interpreter, I translated for women who would be rescued from abuse and who would go back to their abusive husbands saying, "I have to obey him because that's what God wants me to do." What I thought was contradictory was the free society which I had come to live in the Netherlands where we were all equal before the law, but in these ghettos where mainly nominated by Muslims, women and girls could be abused and the minority communities could get away with that, with the argument it was done in the name of their culture or religion and the liberal society and the agents of the liberal society thought that, that being their culture, they had to leave them alone or look the other way.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You recently agreed with Tony Blair that the Muslim veil is a mark of separation, but if a Muslim woman wants to wear the veil in a society that's supposed to be tolerant, why shouldn't she?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: That's exactly what I argue. I say, if it's voluntary, a Muslim woman who chooses to wear the veil can wear it and she should not be in any way prevented from wearing the veil. What I tried to do was also explain what the veil symbolises and I said, actually, we should not be debating the clothe itself but what it stands for, the sexual morality and based on morality that says men cannot restrain themselves sexually. They are like wild dogs, like the imam in your country said, and we women are like pieces of tempting meat and if we do not want to put society into chaos, then we should ideally stay behind closed doors and if it's necessary for us to go outside of the house, then we need to veil ourselves. And I wanted to go into debate with the women who are veiling themselves voluntarily and say, first of all, there are women who are being forced into the veil and I wanted to know their opinion on that, and next, based on their sexual morality, a woman who veils herself of her own free will, is actually wearing a banner telling every man that he is a potential rapist and he is incapable of sexual restraint and I would like to know what men think of this and a woman who covers herself freely is also telling every woman who does not that she's a whore.

KERRY O’BRIEN: As a champion of human rights, don't you see the contradiction that you're arguing for the suppression of a woman's right to wear whatever clothes she likes?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: No, there is no contradiction because I'm not arguing for legislation. For those women who are forced to wear the veil, I argue that the state should protect them from the coercion.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But who is going to say whether they're forced to wear the veil or wearing it by choice?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: Yes. That's another debate. But the major debate is on the merits of the morality on which the veil is based. We live in a democracy and we cannot interact with each other only through the law. Often we have to debate and persuade each other, and I think that I can persuade many rational people that the assertion that men are incapable of restraining their own sexuality and because of that I have to cover myself, that that is irrational and something we should not want.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Is it fair to draw the conclusion from your books and from your articles that you don't believe that Islam and Western style democracy can coexist?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: Islam has certain characteristics that can coexist with Western democracy. As a Muslim I was taught to be generous, to be hospitable, to be kind to the elderly and to be kind to the poor but Islam contains - the basic tenets of Islam and the basic tenets Western liberal democracies are incompatible. Islam fails to recognise secularity or the separation of church and State. Women are subordinate. Life is not valued as much is in the Western liberal societies where life and the freedom of the individual are separate ends in themselves. In Islam, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are things that you can pursue when you go to heaven but you have to die first because life on earth is just a passage and you observe certain rules and if you don't observe those rules you're not considered a Muslim. And then you have the treatment of homosexuals, or at least the idea that they are not allowed to live and should either be banished or killed. Now, in liberal societies these are values that are radically different from what Islam preaches.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But there are many, many moderate Muslims in Australia and I imagine England, the Netherlands and other Western style democracies who would say they have no absolutely problem practising their religion faithfully but also supporting the democratic system of their country.

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: Precisely, and that's why in this debate I think we should make a distinction between Muslims and Islam. Muslims are individuals and they are varied. You will find some of them are radical and some of them are moderate and some do not practice the religion at all. Islam as a doctrine, as a body of ideas, as a belief, is - means submission to the will of Allah. What is that submission means is recorded in the Koran and in the Hadid and we have seen examples of that practice in the countries that have implemented Muslim law, or the Sharia, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and lately Afghanistan under the Taliban. In some Muslim countries they have implemented only the family law part of the Sharia and it's this that I oppose to and I think it's Islam, the doctrine, the ideology that religion that does not meet or that is incompatible with liberal democracy but that Muslims, as varied as they are, you will find that some accept democracy and appreciate it, some who do not and you will find others who are out to destroy it. I think we should not underestimate those.

KERRY O’BRIEN: When you draw, as you have, on the now notorious comments of Sheikh Hilali in Sydney last year about the victim of gang rape as uncovered meat to make your case for Islam’s double standards for men and women, shouldn't you acknowledge that the sheikh's comments shocked and angered many Muslims in his community?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: I'm not sure if many Muslims were shocked. I haven't seen reactions to his comments. What is striking since 11 September about the debate on Islam is that when in the name of Islam violence is committed or in the name of Islam remarks are made such as the sheikh has done, the majority of Muslims remain silent, but when drawings of the Prophet Mohammed are made or when you make remarks about - I think the Koran was thrown in Guantanamo Bay, or the Pope quotes a Byzantine emperor from very long ago, then you see large groups of Muslims taking to the streets shouting murder and saying they are offended because Islam is a religion of peace and going out there in large numbers to demonstrate the opposite.

KERRY O’BRIEN: What do you say to those who would dismiss you as the migrant who came from a traumatic background and became a reactionary as a result?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: In the first place, I use the tools that we are supposed to use in a democracy which is non-violent means to argue my assertions and views. Next, I don't see what is reactionary about saying, "Let's respect life as an end in itself, liberty as an end in itself and the equality of men and women."

KERRY O’BRIEN: Does it concern you, particularly in the emotional environment post 9/11, that your comments will be used by extremists and zealots in Western countries as an excuse for their bigotry, a bigotry that also sometimes leads to violence?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: I am against every form of extremism and any attack on Liberalism. I think extreme right wing parties and movements to me are just as bad as extreme right wing fundamentalist Muslims. There is - what I have descended to is the idea of liberty and self reflection and creating a society that is peaceful and prosperous through trial and error.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Do you still fear for your life in the way you came to do in the Netherlands? Do you take the threats seriously?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: I take the threats seriously and fortunately I still have people protecting me, provided by the Dutch Government. But I cannot live my life in fear every day. I enjoy life to the full. I know the threats are out there and I think that it's clearly worth fighting for the freedoms that I have come to benefit from in just 14 years. I know them only for 14 years. Probably that's why I'm more passionate about them than the people who are born into it.

KERRY O’BRIEN: From your self-imposed exile, how do you describe your relationships now with your family - your father, mother, brothers and sisters?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: That's one of the prices of speaking out against Islam. My entire family are devout Muslims and repelled by what I do and what I say. And that's unfortunate. But I can explain it as I belong to the generation that's the transition and that's something my children will not suffer.


Maryam Namazie* is a Communist activist of Iranian descent. She is mainly known for her activities for women's rights, asylum seeker's rights and for her fight against the Islamic republic and political Islam internationally.

Maryam is currently the secretary of the International Relations committee of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and a current member of the politburo and coordinating council of the party. She is also a leader within the International Federation of Iranian Refugees, a current member of the central council of Organisation for Women's Liberation and one of the hosts on New Channel TV. She is hosting the "International TV" which is broadcasted by NCTV and is the current editor of "WPI Briefing" (English organ of WPI).

Maryam Namazie was born in Tehran but left with her family in 1980 following the Islamic Revolution


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At 3:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really a thoughtful post...thanks for sharing all these with us...and since women's day is coming up i'd also like you to drop by my blog on International Womens Day and share all that i've posted there!!!


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