Posts Tagged ‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali’
Sam Harris said of the Koran after quoting numerous passages:
But there is no substitute for confronting the text itself. I cannot judge the quality of the Arabic; perhaps it is sublime. But the book’s contents are not. On almost every page, the Koran instructs observant Muslims to despise nonbelievers. On almost every page, it prepares the ground for religious conflict. Anyone who can read passages like those quoted above and still not see a link between Muslim faith and Muslim violence should probably consult a neurologist.
With many quotes from the Koran in the link above that make you think that, should you wish to commit violence in the name of Allah, you will find references for such actions that you do so on behalf of god. While there are Muslims that do not believe in using violence and are secularist – not less the Bangladeshi community in my town who fled fundamentalism – the question of how we take away the oxygen that make people feel the Koran is a book that orders Jihad rather than one of metaphor, poetry and a history of a people living in a superstitious supernatural world is one that needs answering without fearing to ask the question.
I still remember when Ayaan Hirsi Ali was receiving death threats at a conference in Washington DC that they did think about cancelling her talk, but she went ahead. I am so glad that we got to hear what she had to say.
The treading on egg shells when a teacher allows her class to name a teddy bear Mohammad faces a murderous mob, a journalist student suffering imprisonment and the threat of the death penalty for starting a debate on feminism and the Prophet, the drawing of cartoons and over the top reaction to when people say that Islam is wrong need challenging.
This can be done without concern for sensitivities or treating people like they need wrapping up in cotton wool for fear that they cannot cope with rational debate without strapping explosives to themselves in response to have the last word. We do not help moderate Muslims that keep their faith in the private sphere if we fear making such criticism or scrutinizing what the text and belief are of Islam. That forgets how Christianity developed to where it is now in the UK.
To this end we need more articles like that of Johann Hari, from The Independent which I re post below:
Johann Hari: We need to stop being such cowards about Islam
Thursday, 14 August 2008
This is a column condemning cowardice – including my own. It begins with the story of a novel you cannot read. The Jewel of Medina was written by a journalist called Sherry Jones. It recounts the life of Aisha, a girl who was married off at the age of six to a 50-year-old man called Mohamed ibn Abdallah. On her wedding day, Aisha was playing on a see-saw outside her home. Inside, she was being betrothed. The first she knew of it was when she was banned from playing out in the street with the other children. When she was nine, she was taken to live with her husband, now 53. He had sex with her. When she was 14, she was accused of adultery with a man closer to her own age. Not long after, Mohamed decreed that his wives must cover their faces and bodies, even though no other women in Arabia did.
You cannot read this story today – except in the Koran and the Hadith. The man Mohamed ibn Abdallah became known to Muslims as “the Prophet Mohamed”, so our ability to explore this story is stunted. The Jewel of Medina was bought by Random House and primed to be a best-seller – before a University of Texas teacher saw proofs and declared it “a national security issue”. Random House had visions of a re-run of the Rushdie or the Danish cartoons affairs. Sherry Jones’s publisher has pulped the book. It’s gone.
In Europe, we are finally abolishing the lingering blasphemy laws that hinder criticism of Christianity. But they are being succeeded by a new blasphemy law preventing criticism of Islam – enforced not by the state, but by jihadis. I seriously considered not writing this column, but the right to criticise religion is as precious – and hard-won – as the right to criticise government. We have to use it or lose it.
Some people will instantly ask: why bother criticising religion if it causes so much hassle? The answer is: look back at our history. How did Christianity lose its ability to terrorise people with phantasms of sin and Hell? How did it stop spreading shame about natural urges – pre-marital sex, masturbation or homosexuality? Because critics pored over the religion’s stories and found gaping holes of logic or morality in them. They asked questions. How could an angel inseminate a virgin? Why does the Old Testament God command his followers to commit genocide? How can a man survive inside a whale?
Reinterpretation and ridicule crow-barred Christianity open. Ask enough tough questions and faith is inevitably pushed farther and farther back into the misty realm of metaphor – where it is less likely to inspire people to kill and die for it. But doubtful Muslims, and the atheists who support them, are being prevented from following this path. They cannot ask: what does it reveal about Mohamed that he married a young girl, or that he massacred a village of Jews who refused to follow him? You don’t have to murder many Theo Van Goghs or pulp many Sherry Joneses to intimidate the rest. The greatest censorship is internal: it is in all the books that will never be written and all the films that will never be shot, because we are afraid.
We need to acknowledge the double-standard – and that it will cost Muslims in the end. Insulating a religion from criticism – surrounding it with an electric fence called “respect” – keeps it stunted at its most infantile and fundamentalist stage. The smart, questioning and instinctively moral Muslims – the majority – learn to be silent, or are shunned (at best). What would Christianity be like today if George Eliot, Mark Twain and Bertrand Russell had all been pulped? Take the most revolting rural Alabama church, and metastasise it.
Since Jones has brought it up, let us look at Mohamed’s marriage to Aisha as a model for how we can conduct this conversation. It is true those were different times, and it may have been normal for grown men to have sex with prepubescent girls. The sources are not clear on this point. But whatever culture you live in, having sex when your body is not physically developed can be an excruciatingly painful experience. Among Vikings, it was more normal than today to have your arm chopped off, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t agony. If anything, Jones’s book whitewashes this, suggesting that Mohamed’s “gentleness” meant Aisha enjoyed it.
The story of Aisha also prompts another fundamentalist-busting discussion. You cannot say that Mohamed’s decision to marry a young girl has to be judged by the standards of his time, and then demand that we follow his moral standards to the letter. Either we should follow his example literally, or we should critically evaluate it and choose for ourselves. Discussing this contradiction inevitably injects doubt – the mortal enemy of fanaticism (on The Independent’s Open House blog later today, I’ll be discussing how Aisha has become the central issue in a debate in Yemen about children and forced marriage).
So why do many people who cheer The Life Of Brian and Jerry Springer: The Opera turn into clucking Mary Whitehouses when it comes to Islam? If a book about Christ was being dumped because fanatics in Mississippi might object, we would be enraged. I feel this too. I am ashamed to say I would be more scathing if I was discussing Christianity. One reason is fear: the image of Theo Van Gogh lying on a pavement crying “Can’t we just talk about this?” Of course we rationalise it, by asking: does one joke, one column, one novel make much difference? No. But cumulatively? Absolutely.
The other reason is more honourable, if flawed. There is very real and rising prejudice against Muslims across the West. The BBC recently sent out identically-qualified CVs to hundreds of employers. Those with Muslim names were 50 per cent less likely to get interviews. Criticisms of Islamic texts are sometimes used to justify US or Israeli military atrocities. Some critics of Muslims – Geert Wilders or Martin Amis – moot mass human rights abuses here in Europe. So some secularists reason: I have plenty of criticisms of Judaism, but I wouldn’t choose to articulate them in Germany in 1933. Why try to question Islam now, when Muslims are being attacked by bigots?
But I live in the Muslim majority East End of London, and this isn’t Weimar Germany. Muslims are secure enough to deal with some tough questions. It is condescending to treat Muslims like excitable children who cannot cope with the probing, mocking treatment we hand out to Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. It is perfectly consistent to protect Muslims from bigotry while challenging the bigotries and absurdities within their holy texts.
There is now a pincer movement trying to silence critical discussion of Islam. To one side, fanatics threaten to kill you; to the other, critics call you “Islamophobic”. But consistent atheism is not racism. On the contrary: it treats all people as mature adults who can cope with rational questions. When we pulp books out of fear of fundamentalism, we are decapitating the most precious freedom we have.
Good news – the interior ministers of EU countries have unanimously agreed at a meeting to protect people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, with the host nation paying the costs.
However the UK government is raising “practical” objections to providing such immediate protection. In which case perhaps it should be sorted out exactly how we are going to operate such protection procedures.
Franco Frattini, the the European commissioner for justice and home affairs commented:
“This is a new decision,” Frattini said, declaring that no new laws were necessary to try to guarantee the safety of Hirsi Ali and others in similar situations. “If we need a law to guarantee the right to life, we’re in a difficult position. We have the decision based on mutual trust.”
While the Members of the European Parliament petition to create a universal fund for protection may have helped in this decision (only one MEP got back to me out of seven saying he would sign the petition) it has to be born in mind this decision is one of intent.
While I am sure that there are issues that the UK may be right to highlight, if the EU is going to really guarantee the freedoms of its member citizens to move around without risk to life because they are targeted, these obstacles can be overcome with enough political will.
It would be a shame if the fear of the anti EU lobby in the UK scuppered this agreement. This measure is one that is needed. It shows the benefits of co-operation where enlightenment values can be defended by nation states. But it may help that there is a legal obligation of member states to offer such immediate protection.
The moral case may not be enough.
Quote from The Guardian that can be found here.
Reposted from BBC NEWS website:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch MP and outspoken critic of Islam, has appealed to the EU to create a fund to help protect people in her position.She told the European Parliament in Brussels her life was in greater danger because the Dutch government had stopped paying for her security.
“I don’t want to die, I want to live and I love life,” she said.
Ms Ali added that the cost of her bodyguards was beyond anything a private person could raise.
The Somali-born former MP has been living under police protection since the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic extremist in 2004.
She was threatened in a note left on his body for writing the script for Van Gogh’s Submission – a highly controversial film alleging that women were being abused under Islam.
But she left the Netherlands for the United States in 2006 after a political row in which she admitted lying in her Dutch asylum request.
She now works for a conservative think-tank in the US and the Dutch government has said it can no longer justify paying for her security.
Ms Ali said she had been working full-time on raising funds.
Dozens of MEPs have signed a declaration backing the creation of a fund.
But for the initiative to become official, half of the parliament’s 785 will have to back the petition.
Earlier this week she announced she was seeking French citizenship.
She said the campaign for her to receive honorary French citizenship was being spearheaded by a group of French intellectuals and was supported by the country’s political leaders.
“Europe needs to defend her because she has defended Europe,” French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy told MEPs.
To contact your Member of European Parliament (MEP) follow this link:
choose language and at the top there should be a “Your MEPs” at the top which will let you find your representive.
I have just e mailed three of my MEP’s for my region. Will publish their replies (should I get any!). My e mail was:
As a resident of the East Midlands I am writing to you about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and people in similar circumstances in Europe.
She was the screen writer for the Dutch film “Submission” that examined women and Islam; the director Van Gogh was brutally murdered and attached to his chest was a note saying Ayaan would be next. The Dutch Parliament have backed out on a promise to pay for her security, and she recently appeared before the European Parliament to advocate a fund that would help to protect people like herself who are under threat.
When I was in Washington DC in the fall last year I had the pleasure of meeting her, and her attendance at the conference there was nearly cancelled due to the death threats being issued. As a private citizen she does not have the means to pay for her security, and while I hope France will be able to take on the charge to protect her if she obtains honorary citizenship the need for such funding for individual’s security should be available if it is not forthcoming when the need is a matter of life and death.
I would strongly urge you to back the petition before the European Parliament in the creation of such a fund.
More on the story can be found on the BBC News link here.
In the USA there is I think something that may unite the Religious Right and the Secularist community – a fear that Europe is being swallowed up by Islam. The Archbishop’s comments that Sharia Law should have an accommodation in UK law, and other examples do seem to add to that perception – and it is one played on in Europe by anti immigration parties.
One such Dutch politician is Wilders who has spoken about making a film that will depict him decimating the Koran. Which if he did it would be nothing new – youtube has plenty of films of people doing that. How analytical such a film about the Koran will be I am not sure, but the background of course is that four years ago the Dutch film “Submission” was shown on Dutch TV and the director of the film Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death with a letter between his dead body and blade stating that the screenplay writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be next.
Now I am concerned with how some people want to accommodate Islam. That women are given less human rights due to their cultural tradition (a German court ruled that a woman was correctly beaten according to cultural custom but thankfully that decision was overturned). If this is multiculturalism, then it needs to be defeated because it allows people to be treated differently, against the notion of justice as fairness, and leads to the treatment of people that would not be allowed by law on other citizens.
However there is a fight back – witness the condemnation that met the very surprised Bishop of Canterbury (as parts of the Anglican community may refer to him when the schism is complete). Then there is Ayaan herself who though her life is under threat while she lives in the USA, speaks out but with authority because she has has lived it. Sam Harris in “End of Faith” in a chapter talks about the concerns of a literalistic interpretation of Islam.
Tolerance is a wonderful thing, but it does not cover everything. Some things will be beyond a society to accept, the question is only if there is a moral basis. Ethical consideration would be to do with harm and suffering, and the welfare of people. As such, for example, decisions based on divorce and financial arrangements which did not consider genders to be equal parties would be a cause for concern.
However, the xenophobia that exists is out of proportion to the threat posed, which is more within their own community then to wider society. That of genital mutilation, less likely for women to be educated or fluent in the native tongue, and customs such as honour killings which do not deserve the adjective. 7/7 happened, but much of that is ignoring what was happening within a community until it was too late.
In a global communication network, it will be difficult to censor the message of hate that Islamic fundamentalists use. Yet we can perhaps counter their message of hate, with rational passionate discourse about the benefits of human rights and liberal democracy. Hate crimes that encourage harm and the breaking of the law require zero tolerance.
Because it seems the key opponents in politics of Islam are the xenophobic politicians. The other politicians in power seem keen to move public policy to an accommodation with “moderate” faith groups in an attempt to take the sting out of the tail of extremist belief – based on fear. Few of political standing seem able to create a vision of an open country that will stand up for liberal values with a veer and vigour. They seem prepared to sacrifice these values for a better nights sleep after an election, reducing liberties and allowing values out of step with a modern state.
If I am wrong, by all means link them here in the comments – I would like to hear such politicians who will stand up for such values. I doubt that it will be popular with the electorate though it may be correct. But the case has yet to be made in the manner like below:
We live but a brief existence on this earth. We want the best for ourselves and our children. It is part of the human identity to better ourselves. By education. By hard work. The will to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow. Much do we owe to those that came before us and may we strive that the future generation will say the same of us.
When people overcome obstacles and hardship to come here to make such a better life for themselves, to become a productive member of society that they become as one with us – this is a cause of celebration that the liberty and opportunity that we have created attracts such people that add to both commercial wealth and spirit in the land.
This does not mean that the light of liberty, freedom and opportunity that attracts so many to our shores should be dimmed on the say so of those that would replace our ancestors hard won rights with customs and beliefs that go against enlightenment values. Nor should we let mistrust and hatred allow us equally to do away those same values that allow us the freedoms to be who we are. Let us not sleep walk into thinking these rights are everlasting; may we ever be watchful of the demagogue that will promise us something with one hand while taking away the rights that gave us everything we love and appreciate. Rights that make our country great.
All equal before the law, the right to be tried by your peers, the right to a fair trial, the freedom to religious belief and none, that your private life is yours, the freedom to speak your mind and be challenged in that opinion, that all have the liberty to make their own way in this life and that by doing so shall the greater good be best served within such laws that are in accordance to the common good.