Rights activist gives speech at NMU

John Becker

Human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke on Wednesday, March 31, in the Great Lakes Rooms of the University Center about the threat presented by Islamic social doctrine to human rights. About 450 students and community members attended the Platform Personalities event.

“It’s very important to know that Islam as a theology, the political and social dimension of Islam, and not the religious aspects, are not just dangerous but also incompatible with the American doctrine of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Ali said.

Ali’s speech, titled “Refuse to be Silenced,” reflected on her experiences with inequality towards women in the Muslim world that she grew up in. Ali called inequality a universal issue but also said there are some major problems faced by Muslim women that most Western women will never face.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali gave a speech on her life living under the rule of Islan and female genital mutilation and afterward signed books for students, staff and members of the faculty. // Ashley Wiggins/NW

“There is female genital mutilation that happens at the age of 5, 6 or 7 that is a sewing of the genitals and the cutting off of the clitoris to ensure that you are a virgin when you reach the age of marriage,” Ali said. “It’s justified in the name of Islam even though it’s not in the Qur’an.” In Ali’s book, “Infidel,” Ali described that while her parents were against genital mutilation, Ali’s grandmother performed the procedure while her parents were away from home.

Ali said she wanted to show that a person born into Islam can change their mind about their religion, even though it is quite dangerous to do so. She said by going against her religion, she faced immediate rejection from her family. After a marriage was arranged for her, Ali decided to seek asylum in the Netherlands.

“I didn’t want to be caught by my father, or the man who he married me off to. I felt the most threatened when I was discovered by my husband,” Ali said.

Ali said a social worker told her that she didn’t have to fear her husband, that she didn’t have to follow him and the police could ensure her safety.

One of the biggest problems Ali mentioned is that the peace-loving and law-abiding majority of Muslims turn a blind eye to the injustices that occur often in their culture.

“When Muslims commit violent crimes in the name of the Qur’an … the peace-loving majority goes into denial, they become defensive,” she said. “I’ve also observed that there’s a willful disregard of facts. It doesn’t matter how many verses of the Qur’an you show, they will say it has nothing to do with Islam and that Islam is peace.”

Ali said ignoring the problem only makes it easier for the mistreatment of women to become accepted and perpetuated.

She also said that while there is a universal history of excluding certain groups of people, whether it’s women, gay people, or other minorities, the main difference in Islamic Sharia (Law) doesn’t allow changes or amendments.

“When I came (to the U.S.) I found out that as far as the Constitution goes, I can fight the exclusion, I can influence congressmen to enact change,” she said.

Ali said she was attracted to the U.S. because of the freedom of expression and the freedom to dissent. Under Islamic Sharia, Ali said women have to be especially careful to not speak out because men are typically warned and then intimidated before finally being attacked, but women are not so lucky.

“As a woman, if you want to change anything you’re declared sinful. It is creed that a woman’s testimony is worth half a man’s and her testimony means little,” Ali said.

Ali said some men use Islamic Sharia to justify beating a woman for as little as leaving the house without the permission of her male guardian. The guardian is usually her husband, but if the woman is unmarried, her father, older brother or uncle would take on that role.

In extreme cases, Ali said the guardian could even sell a woman for an indeterminate amount of money, and that while some groups consider it immoral, extremists use circular thinking to make the ends justify the means.

Junior Melanie Bell, chairperson for the event, said Ali has a unique viewpoint being an apostate in the eyes of her Muslim family and friends.

“Ali has faced adversity in her life that most will never come close to knowing,” Bell said.

Bell also said that because of her outspoken nature, Ali has angered some Islamic extremists.

“Her short film ‘Submission,’ about the oppression of women under the Islamic faith, drew great attention,” she said.

Even though Ali has become a target of Islamic extremists who wish to silence her, she continues speaking because the message she conveys transcends the blind hatred of radicals.

“As more people become aware of the violence, it will become more difficult for people to ignore it,” Ali said.

Harris said she hopes people stop ignoring these injustices towards women and call for action.

“I would like people to learn about what (Ali has) endured and what other women are still enduring. Hopefully we can not just be saddened by it, but hopefully empowered to help women in this situation,” Harris said.