I hope to bring my insights about the book in our next meeting, but until we meet again, here are my first thoughts. Ayaan Hirsi an activist, writer, a politician, and a controversial figure, especially here in the Netherlands. There is no doubt she has an interesting point of view about the Muslim world, and the ‘clash of civilizations’ famous debate. Hirsi, who flee to the Netherlands from Somalia, become a well known figure in the Netherlands, she was elected in 2003, to be a member of the House of Representatives, representing the people’s party for freedom and Democracy (VVD).
Hirsi is also known for being a Muslim woman who became an atheist, who has a lot of criticism about the Islam and mostly she speaks in support of Muslim women. She was working with the director and writer Theo Van Gogh, wrote the script and provided the voice for a short film called Submission that criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society. The movie made headlines in the Netherlands, and eventually Theo Van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam by a young Dutch Islamist who threatened that Hirsi is next to die.
But all these are not new news, and I am sure that most of you heard about this in the past few years. I must admit that before I arrived to the Netherlands, I didn’t know so much about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I did hear her name one time in a course I took in my BA about European politics, when we discussed the murder of Theo Van Gogh.
Many scholars, politicians and other opinionists already discussed and analyzed Hirsi’s theories and statements about the Muslim world. I would like to point out a different issue that troubled me while reading this book.
First of all, as a feminist, I must say that Hirsi’s work is very important to the feminist struggle, even though I might disagree with her sometimes, (and I will elaborate about it next) in her own unique way she contributes much to the discussion about Muslim women and I respect her and her work. Many examples of this we can find in this book, and also in other texts she wrote in the past. Hirsi addresses and points out the situation of some Muslim women, who are victims of religious Muslim practices such as ‘honor killing’, female genital mutilation, violence in the family and others.
The contribution of Hirsi lies in her emphasis, that there are Muslim women in Europe, United States, and other western countries who are suffer from such violent acts. In other words, if some of us might think that these phenomena only happen in the Middle East or in Africa, we are wrong, because actually these can happen in your street, in your neighborhood. The attention Hirsi, gives to the subject, raised the awareness to these issues, especially in the Netherlands, and in Europe.
However there are few points in her attitude which make me feel uncomfortable, and even offended. Towards the end of the book, there is one short chapter about Feminism. Among many other issues, Hirsi discusses terrible phenomena that occur in some Muslim societies which oppress and hurt young woman such as the ‘honor killings’ and female circumcision. These phenomena are dreadful, and in my opinion, they have no room in any society nowadays. According to Hirsi, in order for Muslim women who suffer from such oppression and violence to be rescued, the western feminist movement should interfere and save the Muslim women, since the western white feminist have the right means to do so. Moreover, Hirsi criticizes the feminist movement and accuses it for not doing its job because the ‘western sisters’ do not protest and act for saving their ‘Muslim sisters’.
Do western women must ‘save’ Muslim women? Do Muslim women need to ‘be saved’? This is by now an old debate, which comes up every time we hear about another protest of the feminist movement Femen, which among the others, aims to rescue Muslim women from the religious and sexist oppression of the Islam. I believe there are no rights or wrongs answers to these questions; this is a complicated discussion, which personally I discussed more than once during my gender studies.
And yet, while I was reading this chapter, I almost felt like Hirsi is accusing me personally for not doing anything for Muslim women here in Europe, Africa, the Middle East or Asia who are victims of horrible acts. But then again I thought about the brave Muslim women I do know, who told me more than once that this is not our (the western feminists) struggle, that if these women really need to be rescued, they would do so themselves. Is this possible? Do these women can help themselves? Or they really need an intervention from the ‘outside’?
What do you think? Personally I am not so comfortable with this type of Marxist feminism that all women of the world need to unite and join each other’s struggles. I believe that I cannot understand the experiences and the struggle of a Muslim woman, Christian one, a Buddhist one or black one, because I am a white Jewish woman, and my fight is a different fight. I do support any woman wherever she is to have the right to live her life peacefully, not under any type of oppression or violent regimes.
All women should have equal opportunities, the right to control their bodies and make choices on their own terms. I disagree with Ayaan Hirsi, who blames the feminist movement for not doing its job right and even more, for generalizing all Muslim women all around the world, not all of them need to be saved. I am not saying that ’their struggle’ is not ‘my struggle’; I am only asking what gives me or other women in the west the power and permission to control other women’s life and to save them? I am not comfortable with this job, that according to Hirsi, I should have got it done by now.
And what do you think