Tuesday, June 05, 2007

REFLECTION: Meeting Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a woman with a mission. The problem is that I’m not quite sure what her mission actually is. And to make matters more interesting, after reading at least 100 articles about her (not to mention reading her The Caged Virgin and sitting with her for 40 minutes), I’m not sure if she knows what it is either.

If her mission is to increase sales of her books (including her autobiography Infidel), she certainly is achieving her mission. She is without doubt the star of the show at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, and her book was by far the biggest seller. But apart from dollars and euros, does she have any other goals?

I spoke with Ayaan Hirsi Ali this afternoon. Joining me during the interview was Jose Borghino, editor of the online magazine NewMatilda.com. I don’t wish to give too much away at this stage as I would otherwise be operating off my own recollections of the discussion. If you wish to know what transpired, you will have to subscribe to NewMatilda.com and part with A$77. It isn’t much for a yearly subscription of a superb publication.

I am, however, prepared to share some impressions.

Firstly, I know that many of Hirsi Ali’s allegedly conservative supporters such as Paul Sheehan are obsessed with her good looks. However, Hirsi Ali has a very strong mind and resents being treated as “just a pretty face”.

Secondly, Hirsi Ali is not an archetypal American conservative. In fact, she has views that would make many American conservatives reject her (and it seems many are starting to already).

For instance, when it comes to abortion, Hirsi Ali believes women shouldn’t be barred from access to abortion. She doesn’t believe it should be used as a contraceptive, but she does believe that women should have a choice.

Hirsi Ali is also deadly opposed to the teaching of Creation “science” in schools. In fact, she is opposed to the policies of Christian conservatives who want to bridge the separation or church and state.

She wants Muslims to adopt the values of the European enlightenment. Hirsi Ali hopes that Muslims can come up with an interpretation and understanding of their texts which is consistent with enlightenment values. She doesn’t believe one exists, but claims to have an open mind about the possibility.

Hirsi Ali seems to believe that there is little difference between the AK Party and al-Qaeda. She supports the maintenance of Kemalist secularism, and believes the AK Party wants to introduce sharia law by stealth. She also supports a military intervention to stop the AK Party, and suggests Muslims should be forced to adopt what she sees as secularism even if it is not popular.

The first translation of the Qur’an Hirsi Ali read was the one by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. The views she expressed to me about the Qur’an are certainly different to the ones she has expressed in other media appearances. Is she being misquoted?

Jose asked some absolute gem questions, but I’m afraid you will have to wait until you subscribe and the recording and our articles are placed on the NewMatilda.com site.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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