Brandeis University: You’ve made a real booboo


The onus for change lies with Muslims alone


Brandeis University seems to have flipped the wrong coin when they decided to present an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That unfortunate side of the coin would have irked the entire Muslim world – and that is not something any organisation, institute, government, or individual ever intends to do. The logical next step was to politely let Hirsi Ali know that Islamophobes do not deserve degrees. A campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations effectively ensured that Brandeis University would think twice before honouring someone who doesn’t mince their words when criticising Islam.

Troubling news related to the faith only grow in number each day. Ranging from the bigger trophies, terrorist attacks, to small fry issues like female genital mutilation, something that Hirsi Ali has fought long and hard against. To make matters worse, the paranoia within such regions is so strong that even something as benign as polio drops are thought to be lethal. Therefore, hopes of reformation and change, like that of Christianity and Judaism, are just that: hopes.

Irrespective of how the intolerance and violence grows, most continue to yo-yo between criticism and silence. Why? Because it is fashionable – no, fundamentally essential – for individuals related to the ideology to react with aggression. And no one wants to be on the receiving end. Explanations for this behaviour include justifications such as, “we care about our faith from the heart, we’re not like those westerners who poke fun at their own Jesus,” and more popularly, “I could lay my life for my faith, why would I entertain this nonsense, off with their heads.” A list could be presented of such troubling logical absurdities, an endless list. And it is that list that scares people into submission.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali refuses to submit. She refuses to be silenced and she refuses to take the easier way out. Hirsi Ali’s struggles should not be at all alien to women in Pakistan or women in Muslim regions in general. If anything, they are inspirational. In 1992, she ran away from the prospect of marrying a relative. After immigrating to the Netherlands soon after she worked her way up from the ground. She has even served as a member of the Dutch Parliament for three years. While these offences are surely great when measured through an Islamic lens, they are far from her greatest. During 2003, she penned two books, which spoke about the treatment of women in Islam. Is Hirsi Ali infallible? No. Has she at times propagated an extreme method of tackling the faith? Yes. Can we blame her for it? That’s the tricky part.

Hirsi Ali’s work often expands on her own struggles with the religion and tries to help other women break out from oppression. Her harsh stance has helped brand her an extremist and an intolerant woman.

Hirsi Ali’s work often expands on her own struggles with the religion and tries to help other women break out from oppression. Her harsh stance has helped brand her an extremist and an intolerant woman. She is further accused of distorting the Islamic faith and presenting a skewed version of reality. Women suffer all manners of horror in the name of religion, and more specifically modesty. From marital rape to female genital mutilation – there is not much left to the imagination, it is happening, it is real and women are living it every single day. But each time someone tries to question why, and points at this particular faith, all hell breaks loose. And if the person questioning it all is a strong woman, then the hottest of hell’s wrath would not be hot enough.

The tactics of terror used by Islamic countries and Muslims at large in general ensure that people will either put up with them, or shut up and leave. There is no concept of freedom of speech, and there is furthermore no concept of criticism. Hirsi Ali’s opinion is subjective. When she says she fears for her life, her fear is real, she has been targeted and she’s even gone into hiding. While many others would find comfort in silence and back down, Hirsi Ali came back stronger with a much harsher stance. But we must stop and ask ourselves, is Hirsi Ali really the problem here?

The campaign against Hirsi Ali repeatedly reminded everyone to realise that the Islam she spoke of was in fact not the real Islam at all. It was barbaric and distorted indeed, concocted by mere men and not some divine entity. Even if one were to accept that female genital mutilation is not an Islamic problem, and more of a cultural issue, it still cannot answer how it is spread out as far as Malaysia. The reasons for the practice are the same every time: religion.

However, that is not the most confusing part. Let’s accept that it’s solely a cultural problem for the sake of argument, it still seems fairly odd. For instance, why is it that only when someone connects the dots between female genital mutilation and Islam, people spring into action. A more pertinent question instead would be why people never spring into action when someone passes a fatwa allowing and requiring female genital mutilation. If it is not real Islam to circumcise young girls, then why did people realise it only after Hirsi Ali spoke about it? Fatwas are not passed out in secret, they are not hidden, and they are not covered under any imaginary cloaks. A Muslim’s war is not against a white supremacist, it is against his own kleptomaniac brethren.

Religious scriptures have been used time and again to establish laws, rules, norms, etc, to keep women in line. The liberal lot will rise to the occasion and ask people to consider a more lenient religious point of view.

To put it into perspective: this is similar to standing around and watching, with stoic disinterest, a distant cousin rent a car out in your name. This cousin then proceeds to place a bomb inside this car. And then the car explodes and kills all those standing around. When a passerby then sees the carnage and points out that the car was rented out in your name only then do you react. But you do not go up to the distant cousin to ask them what on earth they were thinking, you yell and scream at the passerby for having an opinion and being horrified. You then raise hue and cry because you’re being demonised and ostracised. Why did you not react when your distant was very loudly, visibly, and obviously putting up your name on the paper? Why do Muslims not march onto the streets and question the ulema first, if this is indeed not Islam? Why is the original misinterpretation not questioned?

Religious scriptures have been used time and again to establish laws, rules, norms, etc, to keep women in line. The liberal lot will rise to the occasion and ask people to consider a more lenient religious point of view. Perhaps it provides some sense of comfort. An augmented cognitive dissonance is a remarkable thing, really. Hirsi Ali and women like her are constantly asked not to generalise their own experiences to criticise religion. When they speak up they’re told they’re Isamophobes for objecting to a faith whose followers are literally trying to kill them. How many women will it take to make a sample big enough to generalise? The response to all women like Hirsi Ali is the same: please stop talking, you are wrong.

Hirsi Ali has suffered real loss because of the things she says. Does she at times sound too extreme? Definitely. But stop for a second and ask yourself this: how many Muslims has she killed? How many Muslims have had to go into hiding because of her? The onus for change lies with Muslims alone. If they are so hell bent on proving that this extreme interpretation of their faith is wrong, then they need to come forward and start transforming things from the inside. Hirsi Ali cannot and should not be called an Islamophobe only because she loudly repeats the things that she has experienced, and continues to see happening around her, and all in the name of god.


  1. I posted this already in other discussions. Bit it’s important to me! I am tired of discussing what would be the “real” religion a,b,c.
    I am neither interested nor qualified to discuss the details of what I consider to be a fabrication of our fantasy.
    But I have to deal with the real outcomes. My wife had to flee from Iran – she and her son being horribly beaten by her husband who would deny her a passport or access to a university. A man that she married after he was introduced by her parents and after only a few meetings. The police wouldn’t help. The court wouldn’t help. The husbands’ family even justified his behavior. It was his god given right to punish her.
    By now – being in contact with the Persian exile community – I had to learn about many cases like that.
    Is that the “real” Islam? To me no religion is “real”. That’s the Islam, that people there believe in – that’s as real as it gets.

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