This woman should need no introduction, she’s been in the media in most Western countries I’m sure. I thought this was a really good interview (Tue. 21 Dec. 2010) because it gives an insight into her background as well as a candid exposition of her political and philosophical views.
I haven’t read either of her biographies, but I’ve read second-hand criticism which led me to believe she was anti-Islamic. This is not entirely true, depending on how one defines Islam. To quote her own words: “I have no problem with the religious dimension of Islam.” She’s not the first Muslim I’ve come across to differentiate between religious and political Islam. Most Westerners, especially since 9/11, believe that any such distinction is artificial. I beg to differ.
She makes it very clear that she’s against the imposition of Sharia law, the subjugation of women and any form of totalitarianism premised on religious-based scripture (irrespective of the religion). In short, she’s a feminist. She decries the trivial arguments over dress when there are other issues of far greater import, like arranged marriages, so-called circumcision of women and honour killings. (For an intelligent debate on whether the burqua should be ‘outlawed’ I refer you to this.)
What I found remarkable, and almost unimaginable, was how violent her childhood and upbringing were. There was violence in the school, violence in the home, violence in politics. As she points out it was so pervasive that a peaceful environment was considered unthinkable. One of the most poignant stories she tells was when she went to Holland to seek asylum, and on going to a Police Station to register, the policeman asked her if she would like a cup of coffee or tea. This was a revelation to her: that a man in uniform should offer a woman, a stranger and a foreigner, a cup of coffee or tea was simply mind-blowing.
It is beyond most of us to imagine a childhood where violence is the principal form of interrogation and negotiation between people in all walks of life: home, education and work; yet that was her life. That she can now talk of falling in love and of writing a letter to her unborn child for a hopeful future is close to miraculous.
What resonated with me was her argument that it doesn’t take 600 years to reconcile Islam with the modern secular world, but only 4 generations. I have Muslim friends, both in America and in Australia, and they belie the belief, held by many in Western societies, that Muslims can’t assimilate and yet keep their cultural and spiritual beliefs. They demonstrate to me that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is correct in her fundamental assumptions and philosophical approach.