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Q and A with religious activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Mainichi Daily News
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Q and A with religious activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks exclusively with the Mainichi in New York. (Mainichi)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks exclusively with the Mainichi in New York. (Mainichi)

Somali-born former Muslim and former Dutch MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is knows as a severe critic of Islam. Soon after the terrorist attack in New York on September 11, 2001, her long-term dubious perception of Islam turned into a severe criticism against Islam.

Her rejection and open criticism of Islam made her one of the most controversial political figure in Europe. She has become a serious target for terrorists since the murder of a Dutch film director Theo van Gogh, with whom Hirsi Ali made a film critical of the treatment of women in Muslim societies.

Now in the United States working for American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, Hirsi Ali wrote her memoir, Infidel, which is scheduled to be published in Japan in the spring or summer 2008. In an exclusive interview with The Mainichi Newspapers, Hirsi Ali talked about her life and her opinions on Islam.

Q: When did you begin to become suspicious of Islam?

A: When I came to Holland, I came to a country that was not ruled by Islam… and I found it confusing to see that people like me, who are Muslims, were at war with each other. And our stereotype of the non-Muslims was that they are cursed. Coming to Holland and being cursed was clean streets, a lot of food, a lot of wealth, a lot of peace. If it was the curse of Allah, then I was very confused.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Mainichi)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Mainichi)

Q: What did you feel after 9-11 terrorist attacks? When did you leave Islam?

A: [Before 9-11 in Holland] I did not live like a Muslim but I considered myself to be a Muslim. Then, on Sept. 11, like everyone else I was watching it on the television, hoping it was not in the name of Islam … I started to download the speeches of [Osama] Bin Laden and read them. And he quotes abundantly from the Koran and the Hadith, the Sunnah. When I was 15 and 16 years old I also believed the same things, exactly the same things as Bin Laden. So it was not Islam that had changed it was me who had changed.

Q: Do you think actions taken by western societies contribute to the confrontation between Muslim society and Western countries on some level?

A: Oh, definitely. And the level they contribute to is, by Western leaders, many of them, refuse to understand the basic difference between Islam and Western style liberal democracy. The radical Muslims in Wwestern countries use the freedoms within liberal democracies to spread a message of fanaticism and hatred and destruction. For instance you find Imams that are not allowed to preach in Egypt, who are preaching in London and Holland because they appeal to the freedom of religion.

Q: Many people explain that extremists were born out of colonization by Western countries and the U.S. government's ongoing unilateral support for Israel.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Mainichi)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Mainichi)

A: That is not true. [It] is human history to conquer each other, to colonize each other. They (Islam) lost those colonies and lost the empire because they were weakened internally. And they were weakened because of their inability to change. Islam closes the mind. Western civilization opened the minds of their own people to science. [That] is the main reason why Western civilization has preceded us. The argument that the support of the United States for Israel has caused all Arab problems is another false problem. What does the fate of Israel have to do with Pakistan? What has the state of Israel got to do with the civil war in Somalia? What does the state of Israel have to do with anyone except the Palestinians? So only the Palestinians can make that point. The Palestinians are so unfortunate as to listen to their other Muslim brothers, where difficulties between Israel and Palestine have not been defined as territorial. And that's what it is a territorial issue.

Q: You talked about young people who believe Judgment Day will break out. Why there are so many conspiracy theories in the Islamic world?

A: Conspiracy theories are rife in tribal societies ... a society that is not knowledge based will believe what the majority believes. And the honor and shame code especially in Arab societies, it is inherent in Islam, one which demands that anything that you define as good you say is yours and anything that you define as shameful is then for someone else. That is why it is easy to blame Israel.

Q: Your position is that women in Muslim societies should be freed. How should they be freed?

A: For three reasons. One is their sexual freedom -- to own your own body and to decide when you want to marry, who you want to marry. If you want to divorce, and when to divorce. Second is to have access and the right to education and to finish it. And the third is financial independence, because you cannot have the other two freedoms unless you are self reliant.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Mainichi)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Mainichi)

Q: But why do so many Muslim women not support your position?

A: The god that is commanding the punishment is the god that is giving the comfort. I think many of them choose to attack the person who is saying, "let's change," instead of attacking god. [Another important reason is that] Muslim countries have an honor and shame code, which reflects on the group. Many of them will say "let's discuss this (a problem) within our group," but to write books about it, to talk about it on the television, and to reveal to non-Muslim outsiders what is wrong with our own community is bad.

Q: You work for a conservative think tank -- American Enterprise Institute. So some Muslims criticize you by saying Western conservatives are trying to use you in order to attack Islam.

A: That is the conspiracy theory. They have to say use me in what? They are paying for me to write "Shortcut to Enlightenment (her new book saying that there should be a faster way to modernize Muslim society)," that will only benefit the Muslims -- it will not benefit the American Enterprise.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Mainichi)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Mainichi)

Q: Your position is that women in Muslim societies should be freed. You freed yourself from Muslim society but now you have to move around with security. Do you feel like you are freed now?

A: Well I am free intellectually. I got an education, I learned a whole new world opened up to me … After Sept. 11, discussing Islam and exercising my intellectual freedom got a price with it. Which is then that you understand the Jihadists will threaten you and some of them may want to kill you and that is for me a price I still want to pay, it is not too much. (By Atsuko Teramoto, Mainichi New York Bureau)

(Mainichi Japan) August 25, 2007

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