Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Hirsi Ali’s key concern is the treatment of women under Islam but her most recent book takes a broader perspective in examining the relationship between Islam and the West.
Hirsi Ali referred to the grass-roots uprisings in Arab countries during 2011 – dubbed the Arab ‘secular spring’. But, said Ali, if Arab nations are enjoying a secular spring, what would an Islamist winter look like?
Before answering that question, Hirsi Ali paused to tell us about Fatima Abdallah. This ‘detour’ so early in her speech seemed to be a deliberate attempt to gain the attention and support of the previous speaker, Geoffrey Robertson.
Fatima Abdallah’s story can be read here. Briefly, she was a divorced and barren Muslim woman, living (in a tense relationship) with her family in Florida. Fatima died from having her head repeatedly bashed against a coffee table. She suffered broken ribs and her blood was spattered all through the house. Her family did not call 911 until 2 1/2 hours after her death. Their testimony is riddled with inconsistencies. And yet, in an apparent concession to Sharia law, Tampa police bizarrely accepted the family’s story that Fatima committed suicide.
Hirsi Ali pleaded with Robertson to help her reopen the case, or point her towards other lawyers who may be able to help.
She then returned to the subject of her speech.
“Fellow unbelievers,” she began, “You godless lot …”
She paused again, for a moment to express her grief at the loss of Christopher Hitchens but soon moved on.
“What would a secular spring mean to the societies in North Africa?” she asked.
It would bring:
- the rule of law
- the end of corruption
- an end to human rights violations
- freedom of speech
- freedom of the press
- freedom of conscience
- freedom of religion
- women’s rights – including laws to protect women from domestic violence
- peace with Israel
- recognition of the right of Israelis to have a Jewish state
- and the end of Islamic terrorism
And these progressive changes, she said would lead to economic growth sourced from greater foreign investment and burgeoning tourism.
Importantly, with greater freedom and better economic conditions, Muslim youth would begin to develop confidence in ‘life before death, as opposed to life after death.’
But, said Hirsi Ali, the uprisings have not brought a ‘secular spring’, but an ‘Islamist winter’.
Hirsi Ali was highly pessimistic about the changes wrought by the Arab protests. In places like Tunisia, Yemen and Libya, she said, Islamists are already in power, or soon will be. The situation in Syria is ‘ongoing’.
Islamist governments, she said, bring ‘religiously sanctioned corruption’. They promise tolerance to non-Muslim women, but these promises are broken. They are jailing authors and artists on charges of ‘provoking society’.
“Provoking society!” said Hirsi Ali, “What else is an artist supposed to do?”
As Islamists move in to fill the void left by the expulsion of the dictators, human rights will be violated and excused as the will of Allah. There will be no freedom of speech, no freedom of conscience.
The legal age of marriage for girls will be lowered to nine.
Women will live in a state of perpetual guardianship.
Sharia law will justify violence against women – both in public and in the home.
There will be no peace with Israel – although Islamic governments will continue to make noises about trying to achieve it.
“The double-speak will continue,” said Hirsi Ali, “but they do not support the two state solution.”
Domestic terrorism will increase.
Elections have been held but it is significant that the secular parties did not do as well as the Islamists. These secular parties are not atheistic, she said, but they do support the separation of church and state.
It was a bleak assessment of the result of the popular uprisings which had given many of us hope for change in the Middle East and North Africa.
But, said Hirsi Ali, there is hope, and it comes from pressure being exerted by the Muslim diaspora.
She also spoke of young, pro-democracy activists like Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi poet and former columnist for the Saudi daily newspaper, al-Bilad. On the day of the ‘prophet’s birthday’ in February this year Kashgari sent a series of tweets:
- On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
- On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.
- On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.
Kashgari made the tweets to make a point about human rights and freedom of expression.
He also enraged his critics by saying that Saudi women “won’t go to hell ‘because it’s impossible to go there twice.’”
Soon, there were 30,000 tweets calling for Kashgari’s death.
Kashgari is in deep trouble. But there is pressure being exerted from more moderate voices in the diaspora. For example, the Association of British Muslims has called on the Saudi King to drop any charges against Kashgari, arguing that:
“Thought crime is no crime at all, … Any state enforced penalty for perceived blasphemy runs contrary to the true spirit of Islam, and of our Prophet, peace be upon him, who was compassionate even to those who scorned him. … No one should be legally prosecuted, imprisoned or detained for simply expressing themselves.”
Secular forces in Muslim nations need help from the West, said Hirsi Ali. Their secular parties need our help to win Islamic hearts and minds. But help is not forthcoming. Why?
She spoke of the tendency to ‘romanticize’ the primitivism of ancient cultures – to view Islam, in a way, through the distortion of our own dissatisfaction with Western civilization.
She spoke of ‘white guilt’ – that special sort of embarrassment we in the West feel about our inability to defend the ideas that liberated African-Americans and women.
She said that it was conservatives and Christians who had stepped up to defend free speech and to defend Israel – not liberals. For example, said Hirsi Ali, it is a Christian group which has taken on the case of Fatima Abdallah.
Personally, I’m not sure that I agree with much of what Hirsi Ali said in this part of her speech – although I may change my mind after reading her book. I think perhaps there are at least four things which prevent Western secularists from charging into the internal politics of Muslim nations:
1) fear of reprisals – who wants to risk a fatwah against them?
2) fear of being accused of being racist or Islamaphobic
3) a feeling that we don’t understand Islam sufficiently to fight it in the same way we oppose Christian assaults on freedom of democracy
4) a feeling that while we have a ‘right’ to criticise Christianity (because that’s our culture) we have less right to attack Islam
5) a feeling of helplessness (and hopelessness?) and a lack of direction – we don’t know what will be helpful, and the problem seems just too large.
Hirsi Ali called on Westerners to:
1. Develop a secular/liberal narrative to counter Islamist doctrine and methodology.
2. To help build up liberal institutions in Muslim nations.
3. To help secular activists with policital and policy training.
It is time for action, said Hirsi Ali.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has suffered greatly for her apostasy. Even at the Global Atheist Convention she was flanked by security guards. Outside the Convention Centre, the day after her speech, Islamic protestors held placards that read, “Message to INFIDEL Ayaan Ali Hirsi [sic] BURN IN HELL FOREVER”
During her speech Hirsi Ali explained how the Dutch government first housed her in a ‘bullet proof’ house – and then moved her to one that was ‘bazooka proof’. She has endured the murder of her friend and collaborator, Theo van Gogh.
Her life is constantly at risk. Her freedom curtailed by the threats of religious extremists and fanatics.
And yet, as she concluded her speech (and the day’s proceedings – for me*) at the Global Atheist Convention she said, “Infidel is a label I now wear with pride and joy.”
On that, I think, we can all agree.
* I do have to apologise to my readers. Richard Dawkins spoke after Ayaan Hirsi Ali but by then I was so tired I had to make a choice between staying to hear Dawkins or forgoing the Gala Dinner. I have already heard Dawkins speak twice and so I made the difficult decision to choose a sleep and a bubble bath instead. Sorry Professor!
I heard that his speech was particularly good, so if someone has written it up, please let me know and I’ll link to it. I’d make a poor war correspondent, wouldn’t I?
“Ooops, sorry, missed that battle, I fell asleep in the bath!”