The Daily Beast interviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
Do you think there is such a thing as Islamophobia? The term is often used to mean not just criticism of Islam, but bigotry toward Muslims as a group and as individuals. Do you think this is a problem?
You know what? Bigotry exists. People are racist. I grew up in a racist household. My mom used to look down on Kenyan people and call them slaves. It’s almost human nature to be racist. When it comes to “Islamophobia,” I think the individual who has given the most comprehensive answer and analysis is Asra Nomani in a January 16 article for The Washington Post. She [talks about the] “honor brigade” [a loosely knit network of bloggers and activists who criticize slights against Islam]. She tells you the genesis of how this “Islamophobia” term was invented, how it was kept afloat, but most disastrously, how it’s used to keep people silent. Right now, the country of Sweden has stood up for human rights, and Saudi Arabia is accusing Sweden of Islamophobia. Saudi Arabia is actually beheading people for sorcery, flogging women. And they dare call Sweden Islamophobic. It’s a country that has no churches, no synagogues, that persecutes fellow Muslims on grounds of being Shiites. It’s just amazing. That’s how “Islamophobia” is used.
Are there people in the Muslim community who have been willing to engage with you, more than before?
Yes, it’s very interesting. Ten years ago, I was a pariah. And now, I have Muslims who are saying, “I don’t necessarily agree with every word you say”—which they don’t have to—“but you’re one of us, you’re brave, a reformation is needed.” I’m giving you an example: Maajid Nawaz, because he’s very prominent. The last time I debated him three years ago, here in New York, we were debating on Intelligence Squared, “Islam is a religion of peace” and he was saying, Islam is a religion of peace, and I was saying, No, Islam unreformed is not a religion of peace. Today he is saying, like me, Islam needs a reformation; but unlike me, he is still a Muslim. And along with him is a cleric, Usama Hassan, who has endorsed this book. He doesn’t agree with me, but he says, “This discussion is absolutely necessary. It’s important, it’s urgent, let’s have it.” So there is a shift, and beyond individuals who are just talking. Look at the president of Egypt [Abdel Fattah el-Sisi]. I think ISIS is forcing a lot of people who are Muslims into opposition. [El-Sisi] says we need a revolution in religion. That goes much farther than I’m going. I’m saying reform; he’s saying revolution. But it’s ultimately going to be a revolution in religion, he’s right.
A reformation of Islam, as happened to Christianity some centuries ago, would be a very good thing. But also very difficult.
So you’re very hopeful about what’s happening right now.
I just want to remind the free world that there was a time when they were not free—Europeans and Americans were not free. There was a time when Christian theology and Jewish theology was used to commit atrocious acts. Remember the witch hunts, remember the Protestants. I think Americans associate religion with something positive. In Europe, Protestants were killing other Protestants, Catholics were killing Protestants, Protestants were killing Catholics, just as the Sunni and the Shia are doing now. That is now in the history books. I look forward to a time when atrocities committed in the name of Islam will be in history books and museums and movies, but not happening to real people in real time.
The key is changing the focus of a religion from justified death, to honouring life.
You’ve had some reactions from Western feminists to your statements about Islam that you’ve found a bit disconcerting.
We are seeing that Western feminists are shy about pointing out the misogyny that’s committed in the name of the religion of Islam, because they feel we can’t impose our ethnocentric or Eurocentric or American-centric ways. If you read the [faculty] letter at Brandeis, that’s the core of it. Which is—don’t be ridiculous. It doesn’t matter where you are as an individual human being; freedom is freedom. Nobody likes to be oppressed. Human rights are universal. Individual rights are universal. This is the message to American feminists and other Western feminists: the best thing to share is the outcome of the emancipation.
There’s an argument, which I’m sure you’ve heard, that Western women face their own forms of oppression, which are different but may be just as bad, or almost as bad—
Like what? Who does the dishes at home? That’s what it boils down to: How can we balance work-life. Of course that’s challenging. But can you imagine how far we’ve come from the points when women weren’t allowed to get out of the house, couldn’t be in public, couldn’t take public office, weren’t allowed to vote, couldn’t own their own bank accounts. Even the money they inherited wasn’t theirs, it was for the male guardians to look after. And now, [it’s], “Who loads the dishes in the dishwasher, who does the unloading?” And I think it’s still very important; I have massive fights with my husband about who does what at home. But that is more on the micro level, and it’s a luxury. And I don’t think that the government can do anything about that. What kind of law are you going to pass that says who does the dishes, who does the diapers, who looks after the children, who’s going to work and whose career is going to go up or down?
I always find it amusing when NZ’s progress of women’s rights is judged by a UN committee that includes countries that don’t even given women the vote.