TCS Daily


Meet Ayaan Hirsi Ali

By Hans H.J. Labohm - January 12, 2004 12:00 AM

'Ayaan Hirsi Ali?'
'Never heard of him.'
'It's a she.'
'Never heard of her.'

Born in 1967 in Mogadishu (Somalia), Ayaan Hirsi attended secondary school in Kenya. From the middle of the nineties she studied political science in Leiden (Netherlands). In the same period she had various jobs, such as cleaning woman and mail sorter. In 2001-02 she was an interpreter and translator. In 2002 she joined the think tank of the Dutch Social Democratic Party. In 2003, she switched over to the Dutch right-of-the centre (classical) liberal party, the VVD, because of this party's firm stand on immigration issues and became a member of Parliament.

She was raised as a Muslim but has recently become agnostic. She has an incredible command of the Dutch langue and is a sharp debater. She abhors woolly, placating rhetoric, which is so typical of Dutch politics. According to a recent poll she ranks second among the most popular politicians in Holland. And her political star is still rising. Yet her political message stirs a lot of controversy, especially among Muslim radicals.

It was the criticism by the late Pim Fortuyn (the Dutch politician who was killed by an animal rights activists) of the impact of Islam on Dutch society which sharpened her awareness of the threat of Muslim radicalism. Fortuyn openly qualified the Islam as a backward religion and Ayaan Hirsi Ali shares this view. When she was still in the socialist party she wanted to put the issue high on the political agenda. But the party did not support her view, because it was afraid that it would play into Fortuyn's hands. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is especially critical of the lack of tolerance for dissenting opinions among Muslims, as well as their oppression of women.

According to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the emotions incited by her statements, especially among radical Muslims, underscores the state of the Islam. (Radical) Muslims are incapable of self-reflection. Consequently, any critical remark is perceived as an offense.

She believes that the Dutch are insufficiently aware of the threat which a rapidly growing radical Islam poses for the basic values and norms of Dutch society. Because of her outspokenness on these issues she has received death threats and needs permanent personal protection.

The political controversy now focuses on the question whether a separate Islamic 'pillar' has to be created within Dutch society. This approach has been successfully applied before. It was a kind of benign sectarianism. Over more than a century, Roman Catholics, Protestants of various denominations, and non-religious groupings had organized themselves in separate 'pillars', comprising primary and secondary schools, universities, newspapers and weeklies, employers' federations and trade unions, radio and tv stations, sport clubs, holiday resorts, and all kinds of associations. There were relatively few mutual contacts between people in separate pillars. But over the years, because of growing wealth and the desire for more individual liberty, the borderlines between the pillars have worn out. And the system has not prevented the ascent of growing nationhood. Why not apply the same recipe for Dutch Muslim population? The difference is that, contrary to the other 'pillars', a potential Muslim 'pillar' lacks historical roots in the Netherlands. Therefore, a more promising road to the integration of Muslims in a modern society runs via common education as opposed to 'pillarized' education. A Muslim 'pillar' will simply perpetuate Muslim 'apartheid' within society, both culturally and as regards the labour market, and will also sustain the subservient role of women.

The hostile reactions to her statements from Islamic circles have surprised Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In response, she has declared that it was not her intention to insult or unnecessarily offend people. Therefore, she lately polished her once abrasive language, without compromising, however, on the substance of her message. She now acknowledges that Mohammed is an admirable figure, but that his ideas are due for modernization.

Can this be done? Nader Fergany, the Egyptian lead-author of the ground-braking Arab Human Development Reports insists that Islam is very rich and that there are interpretations of Islam which can easily be accommodated with the values and norms of modern developed societies.

As Rudyard Kipling once wrote:

'Oh, East is East and West is West
and never the twain shall meet,
till Earth and Sky stand presently
at God's great Judgment's seat.'

Do these lines also apply to the relationship between Islam and the West? What most people do not know is that Kipling's message was meant to be just the opposite, because the poem goes on:

'But there is neither East nor West
Border nor breed nor birth
when two strong men stand face to face,
tho' they come from the end of the earth.'

Let's hope that there will be sufficient 'strong men' who will rise to the challenge ... spurred by the message a strong woman.


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