In and out of their religion two fiery ladies seek reform

(HH here: I would like to take the current mouth-piece for C.A.I.R. and have him debate these two ladies! Oh what an evening that would be!)

By BARRY GEWEN
Published: April 27, 2008 NYT

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji are two of the most prominent and outspoken critics of what they and others see as “mainstream Islam.” Brilliant, dynamic women — the overused word “charismatic” is not inappropriate for either one — they have each rebelled against a Muslim upbringing to become public figures with large and devoted followings.

Yet though they are allies on one level, their approaches to Islam are strikingly different, with one working outside the religion and one within.

Ms. Hirsi Ali is an avowed atheist whose criticisms can be seen as attacks not only on radical Islamism but on the religion of Islam over all.

For Ms. Manji, there has been no such either-or choice. She is a practicing Muslim who — though she can be as caustic about her coreligionists as Ms. Hirsi Ali — seeks to change her faith from within. As founder and director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University, she assists other maverick writers and scholars who dissent within their communities. “What I want,” Ms. Manji has said, “is an Islamic Reformation,” and in contrast to Ms. Hirsi Ali, she adds, there is “no need to choose between Islam and the West.”

Both Ms. Hirsi Ali and Ms. Manji come from non-Arab Muslim backgrounds. By itself, this may be one reason for their opposition to Islamic orthodoxy, which they see as inherently Arab, or Arab-dominated. Ms. Hirsi Ali was born in 1969 in Somalia, and lived in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya before fleeing to the Netherlands when she was 22 to avoid an arranged marriage. When her family was in Saudi Arabia, she remembers her father’s complaining that the Saudis had perverted the true Islam. “He hated Saudi judges and Saudi law,” she writes. “He thought it was all barbaric, all Arab desert culture.”

Ms. Manji was born in 1968 in Uganda, but her family, part Egyptian and part Indian, moved to Canada when she was 4 to escape Idi Amin. She is even more insistent than Ms. Hirsi Ali in drawing a distinction between Islam and Arab tribal culture, its “dictatorship from the desert.”

Ms. Manji has a broader and more flexible idea than Ms. Hirsi Ali of what Islam is and can be. Ms. Hirsi Ali says, “Saudi Arabia is the source of Islam and its quintessence.” Ms. Manji, on the other hand, is convinced that her religion can escape what she sees as its Arab domination. “We need a take-no-prisoners debate about Saudi Arabia, a cauldron of duplicity.”

The writer Paul Berman suggests that the difference between them may be due to the fact that Ms. Manji was raised in the warm, liberal, welcoming precincts of British Columbia, where religion could be a comfort rather than a burden, where pluralism was an assumption, a fact of life. … Ms. Hirsi Ali’s early years, by contrast, consisted of dictatorship, war, patriarchy, genital cutting, confinement and beatings so severe that she once ended up in a hospital with a fractured skull. Ms. Manji offers her own support for Mr. Berman’s conjecture: “Had I grown up in a Muslim country, I’d probably be an atheist in my heart.”

Ms. Manji, too, sees feminism as the linchpin for Islamic reform. “Empowering women,” she says, “is the way to awaken the Muslim world.” But she is not only a committed feminist (bad enough in the eyes of Muslim conservatives). She is also an open lesbian — a rebel twice over. The difference between them “really is between those outside of a faith and those still within it,” says Ms. Manji’s friend the writer Andrew Sullivan. “Hirsi Ali has abandoned faith for atheism. Irshad has taken the harder path, I believe.”

The two women have known each other for four years, since Ms. Hirsi Ali interviewed Ms. Manji for a Dutch newspaper, and they discussed their continuing relationship in e-mail interviews. They immediately bonded — understandably enough. “I could not believe she was not an atheist,” Ms. Hirsi Ali says, “and she could not believe that I had become one.” When Time magazine named Ms. Hirsi Ali one of its “100 most influential people” for 2005, it was Ms. Manji who wrote the comment on her. Ms. Manji admires Ms. Hirsi Ali’s determination to speak truth to power, saying that “Ayaan’s defiant distrust of Muslim authorities can help generate debates that move us closer to honesty.”

For her part, Ms. Hirsi Ali replies, “I make a distinction between Islam and Muslims.” That is, “I picture the defeat of Islam as large swaths of Muslims crossing the line and accepting the value system of secular humanism. This is not a matter of one religion defeating another, it’s a matter of value systems which cannot coexist.”

Clearly, this is a debate of importance not only to Muslims but to non-Muslims as well, and for a Westerner listening in, the best way to understand it may be to translate it into the language of European history. Irshad Manji sees herself as moving Islam into the 16th century; Ayaan Hirsi Ali wants to move it into the 18th. It’s as if Luther and Voltaire were living at the same time.

Click on title for the whole thing

Pretend Feminists take note: Muslim girls beaten for not wearing the hijab

Muslim girls who don’t wear the hijab all the time are beaten, says Gerd Fleischer, of Self-Help for Immigrants and Refugees (Seif).

“In my office, women cried brave tears over having to go with a hijab. Countless young women despairingly told me that they don’t have the hijab on all the time, they’ll get a beating.”

“These don’t dare appear in the public debate,” Fleischer told Vårt Land.

She’s upset that young Muslim women say they are free to choose if they want to go with a hijab.

She says that the proud educated women who appear with the hijab, know too that their sisters are coerced. But they speak little of it. Fleischer says it should be part of their women’s liberation to also support them. The coercion many women experience, is barely mentioned as an aside.

She says young girls have to move to other places in the country and live in secret addresses, also because they don’t want to go with a hijab.

“Parents often beat their daughters into obedience and virtue and the hijab as a rule constitutes part of the control,” says Fleischer.

She agree with Progress Party (Frp) head Siv Jensen that the women’s movement of the left in Norway doesn’t care about non-Western women.

Liberal politician Abid Q. Raja will head the parties work with the minority issue. He thinks the Labor Party (Ap) wronged the immigrants more than the progress Party.

“Frp just used scolding, but Ap completely neglected the problem areas for fear of being called racists. Not making demands from fellow citizens is not taking them seriously. We don’t need to be pissed on behind our backs,” says Raja.

Source: Aftenposten (Norwegian)