Chaos and the Middle East are, sadly, synonymous these days. In the wake of violent Middle Eastern protests that some claim are the result of an anti-Prophet Muhammad film that has gone viral (though the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was allegedly pre-planned), new-found scrutiny is being placed upon the Islamic faith.
In the new issue of Newsweek, writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali shares her personal experience surviving “Muslim rage” and escaping from the faith she once subscribed to.
Ali began her piece by outlining the recent anti-American protests that unfolded on September 11 in Egypt and Libya and have expanded across the globe. She described the “homicidal few in the Muslim world” who value life less than “religious icons” like the Prophet Muhammad or the Koran.
“These few are indifferent to the particular motives or arguments behind any perceived insult to their faith,” she wrote. “They do not care about an individual’s political alignment, gender, religion, or occupation…All that matters is the intolerable nature of the insult.”
Ali details her personal experience in a a Newsweek cover story:
In 1989, when I was 19, I piously, even gleefully, participated in a rally in Kenya to burn [author Salman] Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. I had never read it.
Later, having fled an arranged marriage to the Netherlands, I broke from fundamentalism. By the time of Sept. 11, 2001, I still considered myself a Muslim, though a passive one; I believed the principles but not the practice. After learning that it was Muslims who had hijacked airplanes and flown them into buildings in New York and Washington, I called for fellow believers to reflect on how our religion could have inspired these atrocious acts. A few months later, I confessed in a television interview that I had been secularized.
Over time, Ali became an atheist and began entering into the political arena, campaigning — and inevitably winning — a seat on the Dutch Parliament. She is also a founder of the AHA Foundation, a group devoted to women’s rights. Her change of faith has created a plethora of issues for Ali.
Some of her statements and stances, in fact, have inevitably hampered her political career, as Muslims have a history of responding harshly to her views. She explains:
The week before I was sworn into Parliament, I gave an interview to an obscure paper in the Netherlands that caused an uproar. Dutch Muslim organizations had been demanding that the age of marriage be lowered from 18 to 15, touting the Prophet Muhammad as their moral guide. In response, I suggested that some of the actions of the prophet might be considered criminal under Dutch law. This prompted a delegation of ambassadors from Turkey, Malaysia, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia to knock on the door of my party leader shortly after I took my seat in the legislature, demanding my eviction from Parliament for hurting the feelings of Muslims—those not only in Holland, but everywhere in the world, all 1.5 billion of them.
But that was nothing compared with what happened when I made a short film with Theo van Gogh (titled Submission) that drew attention to the direct link between the Quran and the plight of Muslim women. In revenge for this act of free thinking, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man, murdered van Gogh—shooting him eight times and stabbing him with two knives, one of which pinned a note to his body threatening the West, Jews, and me. As he was dying, my friend Theo reportedly asked his assailant, “Can’t we talk about this?” It’s a question that has haunted me ever since, often in bed at night. One side proposing a conversation; the other side thrusting a blade.
The politician and activist went on to further explain her battle, noting the struggles she has faced as a former Muslim adherent. Rather than sympathizing with radical Islamists, Ali lambasted government officials and “delusional” individuals who believe that the threat is only temporary, that radicals can be negotiated with and that these incidents should be blamed on those who make controversial films, cartoons and other similar projects. People, she maintains, shouldn’t be in the business of apologizing for free speech.
While her story is certainly disheartening, Ali believes that “this too shall pass.” In the end, Islamic societies, she contends, will reject extremist tenets in government. “After the disillusion and bitterness will come a painful lesson: that it is foolish to derive laws for human affairs from gods and prophets,” she writes.
Read Ali’s full article here to learn more about her struggles and views on the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict.
For more on the Arab crisis, click here.