Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Makes Me Think

One week down and “The Caged Virgin” is finished. I told yall it was a page turner. After dinner with Angela this week, when she made fun of me for calling Ayaan Hirsi Ali “one of my favorite authors” (since she’s only written 1 other book that I read), I realized I should probably clarify. I guess I would say that Hirsi Ali is one of my favorite thinkers. Many in the international arena find her extreme, provocative, and troublesome. She has definitely ruffled a LOT of feathers. One of the most horrific stories of how people in the international community oppose her exercise of free speech includes the murder of a man who produced her documentary exposing the harsh realities of extreme abuse of Muslim women… the man was stabbed to death in the streets of Amsterdam in broad daylight. And a letter addressed to Hirsi Ali was pierced through his chest with a knife (see photo of crime scene below). I would say that qualifies her as a very hated woman.

But to me, she is an inspiration. Do I agree with all her viewpoints—no. But her passion and determination to use her mind and her voice to speak out against human rights violations of women on the global stage is powerful to witness. She was born a Muslim, but is now an atheist. She lives in exile under 24 hr armed guard because of the threats on her life. Yet she speaks. And continues to speak. Because she believes that fighting for women who cannot yet fight for themselves is a moral imperative.

“The Caged Virgin” is a collection of essays she has written on the topic she refers to as “The Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam”. The writings run the gamut from an indictment on female circumcision to the punishment of a woman for her own rape… from democratic countries turning a blind eye to the “cultural traditions” of their Islamic immigrants (even when they break the laws of their new home country) to a healthy discussion on why Islam resists critical evaluation of its own beliefs and culture. Each chapter is smart, thought-provoking, and, at times, painful to read—because to hear stories of women who do experience suffering simply breaks my heart (and she tells the stories of countless women she’s met).

Although the battles Hirsi Ali fights are inherently good, to lump the whole group into one is a generous, yet limited description. One thing that I have learned in my personal encounters with Muslim women is that there are no two alike. They do not ALL suffer from domestic abuse, they do not ALL have husbands with multiple wives, they don’t ALL bear the scars of childhood incest, etc. But what I love about Hirsi Ali’s fight is that she awakens me to have compassion for, think of, and to fight for women who are suffering these injustices. She says, “I invite the advocates of the multicultural society to acquaint themselves with the suffering of women who, in the name of religion, are enslaved in the home. Do you have to be mistreated, raped, locked up, and repressed yourself in order to put yourself in someone else’s position? Is it not hypocritical to trivialize or tolerate those practices, when you yourself are free and benefit from mankind’s progress?” (p.7, “The Caged Virgin”).

Reading her book doesn’t make me want to accuse every Muslim woman I meet of being a miserable, unhappy victim and blame every Muslim man for her plight. Instead, it generates in me a longing to reach out to those who are oppressed, who do suffer, and who bear the burdens of pain and loneliness. I want to love them and care for them as Christ would. The problem I see in that plan of action is that those who do suffer in this way are encouraged by society or culture to keep it a secret. Typically, you don’t advertise the painful things you are going through. Especially as an immigrant in America, where are the places these women can even turn to? So, how will I ever know who they are ? How can I ever help them?

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