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Hirsi Ali: Muslim Women Are the Key to Change

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Here’s a spot-on piece by Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the Sunday Times, on the raging, debilitating misogyny of Islamic societies: Muslim women are the key to change.

Ideas can be dangerous. I have learnt that the hard way. But I know that when it comes to freedom and human rights these precious ideas, so valued in the West, are worth fighting for. As a young Muslim woman, born in Somalia, I abandoned my family to avoid an arranged marriage to a distant cousin and fled to Holland. I was just 23 and I had no idea back then that my refusal to submit to a traditional Muslim woman’s life would come to dominate my whole career.

So for me, the debate that is raging about the veil, particularly the niqab, which covers most of the woman’s face save for the eyes, goes to the very heart of the matter of liberty for Islamic women. Not just freedom for its own sake, but from a life of repression, subordination and violence.

Last week, for example, a senior Muslim cleric in Australia alluded in a sermon to unveiled women as “uncovered meat”. Sheikh Taj El Din al-Hilaly’s remarks prompted outrage, but he will have many faithful followers who agree with him.

Such insults to women are all the more reason to welcome the recent stand by Jack Straw and Tony Blair on the niqab. Not only is it a “visible mark of separation” as Straw described it, but also a visible sign of subjugation. At the same time it serves to condemn the male as well. If I were a man I would find it insulting because it supposes that all men are incapable of sexual self-restraint.

Like Straw I have also drawn on my experience of dealing with constituents. I served three years as an MP in the Dutch parliament, devoting myself to speaking out about female rights in Islamic societies. I often had to translate for poor women immigrants who were usually barely educated and nearly always in thrall to men.

In Islamic societies the veil functions as a constant reminder to the outside world of a stifling morality that makes a Muslim man’s honour entirely dependent on the respectable, obedient behaviour of the female members of his family.

Read the whole thing…

UPDATE at 10/30/06 5:30:46 pm:

On a related topic, Sam the Egyptian Sandmonkey has a post about a shocking misogynistic riot in Egypt, completely unreported by world media: The Eid sexual harassment incident.

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