Islamic Reformation Will Come From Europe
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Dutch-Somali legislator who worked with Theo van Gogh on a film about women and Islam. Van Gogh was murdered on the street in Amsterdam in 2004 by an Islamist terrorist who opposed the film. Hirsi Ali recently spoke with Andrea Seibel, vice editor in chief of Die Welt, for NPQ.
NPQ | Do you regret the movie Submission that caused van Gogh’s murder, especially since you were the ultimate target?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali | I regret the murder, but I have learned one lesson from this: The name of the director will not be disclosed in the next movie. But I do not regret the movie’s content.
NPQ | Is it true that you still receive assassination threats?
Hirsi Ali | Yes, indeed, and mainly from very young people, at times even girls, who are often Dutch and have converted to Islam. Personally, I see all this as part of a much larger historical movement that we must go through.
NPQ | How do you cope with these threats?
Hirsi Ali | 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.
NPQ | You repeatedly use the word fight.
Hirsi Ali | My life has turned into somewhat of a mission. 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, in a world that is intertwined through the modern media.
NPQ | Do you see yourself as somewhat like the female counterpart to Salman Rushdie?
Hirsi Ali | We are certainly allies. He was the first to go through this hell of having to live in constant fear. I am very happy that he remained steadfast. He is courageous and he is my hero.
NPQ | He advised you to go to the United States, as he did, because he felt it was safer there. He married because he did not want to be alone.
Hirsi Ali | That is true. It is not good to be alone. However, a potential partner would have to live with me, a person always in extreme danger. I don’t know. It would be very difficult to have to make decisions for the partner also. Rushdie told me that I would always be welcome in America. I replied that I am now a member of the Dutch Parliament. This is my country. I take my parliamentary duty very seriously and intend to be in politics until the end of my legislative term in 2007. Then I will see what happens. Writing, making movies, teaching assignments, perhaps.
NPQ | Why do so many Muslims who live in Europe seem to have contempt for Europe?
Hirsi Ali | In America, you are an American from the get-go. In Europe, most immigrants always want to return to their homeland. Consequently, they are always treated as mere “guests” in their new societies. If one does not fend for oneself in America, if one does not earn one’s own money, you literally perish, and you fall through the cracks. In Europe, the social state has distributed money generously, leaving immigrants in a passive state of mind. Their “being different” is being encouraged by the imported Islamic clerics who tell them that they have nothing in common with the infidels.
NPQ | What is the next step after multiculturalism?
Hirsi Ali | It is high time for us to treat immigrants like genuine citizens. Government must act more clearly, at times more harshly, and must demand more. Take the honor murders of Turkish women, which is a problem here in the Netherlands. Not only should the murderer be punished, but the whole family, even the woman who serves the tea whilst the family council meets to prepare such a bloody act. We need to send a clear signal: You will not be allowed to do these things. In the cases of clitoris excision, we also need a control system. In the Netherlands, we have such a system, but it is still on a voluntary basis. Yet, it is a beginning.
NPQ | Why are our European societies not able to act more forcefully against obvious injustice and the oppression of Muslim women?
Hirsi Ali | When we go into Turkish communities and speak about values and codes of behavior that are incompatible with freedom and democracy, I often hear the argument that, in Europe, the Jews were killed and that this is what is also intended for Muslims—to obliterate them culturally. These are murderous arguments that paralyze any European. For my part, as a new European woman, I say to them: Don’t let yourselves be fooled! 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.
NPQ | Order and oppression thrive better in closed systems than in an open, democratic society. Freedom encourages doubt.
Hirsi Ali | Self-doubt is good but not when we are dealing with principles. The undamaged body, life itself and the freedom of the individual are not negotiable. If you want to smoke, OK, you are only hurting yourself. But 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. Moroccans here are sending their daughters and wives back to Morocco; they take them out of school. This disrespect of women is unacceptable.
NPQ | Not too long ago, these practices were common even here among Europeans.
Hirsi Ali | Education has led to women’s emancipation. Men have also changed their attitudes. I am reminded of an article by John Stuart Mill in 1869, in which he wrote: Societies which oppress women are poor societies. These societies are also more prone to violence. This is still true today.
Europe has taken too many things for granted since the end of World War II, and especially since the end of the Cold War. It is believed that things have always been this wealthy and peaceful. Immigrants were just left alone to do whatever they wanted. It was felt that this was somehow OK, for the sake of peace, joy and happiness. We have lost the attitudes of the elders, their respect of freedom, democracy and a nation under law as being something special, precious, not something to be taken for granted.
NPQ | Your feminism is one of human rights and humanism. What do you think of Western feminism?
Hirsi Ali | Yes, 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. This is so basic. Western feminism? Just look at Germany. I believe that a German woman chancellor sends a signal to the world.
NPQ | Where is Europe today a year after van Gogh’s death?
Hirsi Ali | Theo van Gogh’s death was earth shattering for me and the whole country. I have lost a friend. But I want to be optimistic, I must be optimistic. What Africans, Asians and Muslims go through in Europe, the Europeans have experienced in their own past, during many transitions from underdevelopment to development, from religion to secularization, from a rural environment to a city culture. Multiculturalism freezes the status quo instead of allowing further development.
NPQ | Being a political activist is one thing, being able to remain a human being another.
Hirsi Ali | I have friends who sometimes just tell me that they like me, with whom I can spend a nice evening. We go to the movies and talk about anything but politics. I do have a little bit of a private life. I know that I cannot fight constantly and that I have to think of my private life. But I am really not obsessed. And yet, I wish to use this opportunity, this window in time. I know that the Reformation of Islam will begin in Europe, just as the Christian Reformation did, mainly because of the freedom of opinion.
NPQ | Your family has done terrible things to you. Why do you still love your father?
Hirsi Ali | Because he gave me the opportunity to go to school. He was against my clitoris excision. This was done secretly and against his will by my grandmother when I was 5 years old and he was still in prison in Somalia. This is very important to understand. The oppression in Muslim families is most often perpetrated by women, by mothers and mothers-in-law. It is us women who make men out to be the oppressors.
NPQ | When did you last talk to your father?
Hirsi Ali | A year ago. This saddens me deeply. I know that my family loves me, as I love them. But we are separated by principles. I hope that time will heal these wounds.
NPQ | Why are love and longing not stronger?
Hirsi Ali | [laughing] Because the family is afraid to go to hell. My father believes that he must choose between me and God. This is all very difficult. I myself had to struggle to decide which voice to listen to, that of God or that of my heart.
NPQ | Do you think that your father would have had you killed?
Hirsi Ali | I hope not—I don’t think so.
NPQ | If the pope, who recently gave an audience to Hans Küng and Oriana Fallaci, would offer to see you, what would you want to discuss with him?
Hirsi Ali | I would ask him to meet with representatives of the Muslim faith and to try to convince them that giving women more freedom does not endanger the faith. I would also ask him to allow the use of condoms as a protection from HIV. That would be a major step.
NPQ | Saint, martyr, activist, black gazelle with a John Wayne attitude. Do you recognize yourself in these descriptions?
Hirsi Ali | I can’t help being a public figure. I would say that I am someone who thinks aloud, perhaps too much aloud at times.