In her 2007 memoir Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes, “I needed to ask: Did the 9.11 attacks stem from true belief in true Islam? And if so, what did I think about Islam?”
What Hirsi Ali came to think was that she could not believe in a God whom others used to justify the kind of violence she saw within her religion. Since 9.11, Hirsi Ali has become one of the world’s most outspoken opponents of radical Islam, specifically the way Islam is used to justify the subjugation of women. She, along with Irshad Manji, discusses this topic in “Irreconcilable Differences: Two Women on Islam Today.”
SFR: Do you find Islam is becoming more moderate the farther away it gets from the Middle East?
AHA: That depends on how we define Islam. I’d like to make a distinction between Muslims and followers of Islam. If we take Muslims, yes, I see them becoming more moderate, even more tolerant sometimes. But the creed itself is not. The basic tenets are a challenge and allow the religion to be more fundamentalist. What we are seeing since 9.11 is that it’s a very difficult religion to reform.
Does the influence of Western culture make the lives of women within Muslim communities in the West easier?
Yes, because Muslim women in the West live in countries that provide Muslim women with legal rights. You can appeal to the laws of the country. A woman can say, ‘I’m in a place where I have rights and I am going to use them.’
What can women of all religions learn from the lessons of Islam?
What we can learn is that because Western legal systems are secular, they continue to be challenged from within and from outside. Citizens of the West must continually prepare to take on that challenge. We must teach young children and young adults the history of how these laws and this legal system has come about. It’s very difficult to talk about freedom to someone who has never lost freedom and who also doesn’t know much about not having freedom, from history books or from the outside world.
How can the West work with Muslims to ensure safety for Muslim women?
We should remain in a constant dialog with agents of Islam who want to spread this faith in the West, but we should know that we are not going to compromise in basic human rights. Negotiation always assumes that you’re going to reach an agreement, but that agreement must never be a compromise on human rights. We can compromise on where we build mosques, and when and where people can pray. In the West, we have learned that compromising on human rights means you go one step farther until you have two parallel societies, where in one society women and children and gay people are subjugated.
How can the Muslim community work with the West for those goals?
If you come here as an immigrant and you want to practice your religion and it’s incompatible with human rights and the laws of the country you’ve chosen to immigrate to, you, as the immigrant, must be held to the same moral standard as everyone else. We abide by the same laws and you don’t discriminate in that sense. It’s difficult to have that conversation if everyone has different standards saying, ‘OK, well, for the immigrants we just have multiculturalism and they can beat their wives and the natives, they can’t.’ It becomes ridiculous if you start to differentiate within the legal system. If white men abuse women, it’s called domestic violence and if Muslim men do it, it’s called culture and religion, and that’s not fair.
Irreconcilable Differences: Two Women on Islam Today
6:30 pm, Wednesday, Oct. 8
211 W. San Francisco St.