I don’t watch a lot of t.v, but one of my favorite shows is HARDTALK on BBCWORLD. Today I saw an interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian feminist and a former Dutch parliamentarian who now lives in USA. She has gained worldwide notoriety for her fearless criticism of Islam, the religion of her birth. During the interview, although she now claims to be an atheist, she stated her continued commitment to confronting the “evils” of Islam which she believes is inherent in the religion. Especially in it’s treatment of women and girls. I have tremendous respect for her and she is an inspiration as someone who stands for her beliefs even though it has placed her life in constant danger.
Interestingly enough, I attended a seminar today on understanding the religious and cultural aspects of Arabs and Muslims. I found the overall tone of the speakers, who were from the Muslim and Arabic community, to be apologetic towards the violent aspects of Islam and playing the blame game. Blame U.S., European and Israeli policies, as well as the western media for creating and fueling the religious based extremism and terrorism associated to Islam. I don’t buy that these factors are the root causes of Islamic based terrorism, although I do accede that they do have an influence. However, I contend that there is a dynamic within the religion that easily lends itself to those who today, wish to use it as the basis to justify acts of violence in general and acts of terrorism in particular. More so than any of the other religions. I am still working this all out in my own mind, but my opinion is not the theme of this post.
I read this quote by Ms. Ali on Bookers Rising and it moved me. It is from a speech she gave on January 15th at the Congress of Racial Equality’s 23rd annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where she received CORE’s International Brotherhood Award.
“Human beings are equal; cultures are not. A culture that celebrates femininity is not equal to a culture that trims the genitals of her girls. A culture that holds the door open to her women is not equal to one that confines them behind walls and veils. A culture that spends millions on saving a baby girl’s life is not equal to a one that uses its first encounter with natal technology to undertake mass abortion simply because baby girls are not welcome. A culture with courts that punish a husband for forcing his wife to have sex with him is not equal to a culture with a tribunal that decrees a young woman be gang-raped for talking to a boy of an allegedly higher caste. A culture that encourages dating between young men and young women is not equal to a culture that flogs or stones a girl for falling in love. A culture where monogamy is an aspiration is not equal to a culture where a man can lawfully have four wives all at once. A culture that protects women’s rights by law is not equal to a culture that denies women their alimony and half their inheritance. A culture that insists on holding open a position for women in its Supreme Court is not equal to a culture that declares that the testimony of a woman is worth half of that of a man.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality has become a reality for some and remains a dream for many. It has become a reality for the few people privileged enough to live in this culture that values the human individual regardless of race or gender. It is this culture that provides me with the vocabulary, the legal tools, the material resources, the platforms, and most of all, the opportunity to meet like minded individuals who will stand for the rights of those fellow girls and women who haven’t been as lucky as me or you. It is within this culture that it pays to fight for equality. Unfortunately, it is this culture that is under threat today. Many of those born into it take it for granted–or worse, apologise for it. So dear men and women of colour, and dear women of all colour: Let’s join together to protect this culture of life, this culture of liberty, this culture of “ladies first.”