Muslim women protest Australian visit of anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s upcoming speaking tour to Australia is not the first time she has visited the country, but it’s the first time there has been significant public opposition, as a group of high-profile Australian Muslim women have launched a petition against the outspoken Dutch-American activist, claiming she “does not speak for us.”
Unlike Geert Wilders, who was recently defeated in the Dutch national election, the Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali might seem like an unlikely advocate of the Dutch far right: she’s female, black and grew up Muslim. Now, a group of Muslim women in Australia are petitioning her upcoming speaking tour to the country.
The group, which includes a number of high-profile writers, academics and activists, have expressed “disappointment” over Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s invitation to speak in Australia as part of a tour organised by event group Think Inc.
In an online petition, titled “Ayaan Hirsi Ali does not speak for us,” the group stated that ,”Hirsi Ali’s sheer presence in Australia undermines both intra and inter-community efforts toward social cohesion and in providing platforms for Muslim women to champion their own causes.”
Notwithstanding that position, the group extended an invitation for Hirsi Ali to meet with them during her visit and to engage in a discussion to debate and contest her views regarding Islam and the status of women in Islam.
The statement, which is signed by about 270 Muslim women in Australia, including high profile writers and activists, condemns Hirsi Ali’s discourse, which they say is “grounded in hate-mongering and bigotry.” They also fear that her views against Islam will serve to increase what they describe as “hostility and hatred towards Muslims in a world of increased Islamophobia.”
The author is well known for her views condemning Islam and its incompatibility with the West.
During her visit to Australia last year, she said on the ABC’s program Q&A, “critics of Islam must be less squeamish about criticising practices carried out in Muslim countries such as forced marriage.”
Hirsi Ali has often used her own life experiences to shed light on the conditions of women in Muslim countries and around the world. Her story as a victim of female genital mutilation, a refugee who fled the civil war in Somalia to then to be married off to a Somali man against her will, are widely reported.
The protesting group insists that they do not oppose Hirsi Ali’s right to express her opinion but highlight that her views may incite more aggression against Muslims in Australia and worldwide.
Award-winning playwright and author Samah Sabawi, a signatory to the petition explained “Hirsi Ali’s brand of hate speech and incitement can lead to acts of violence.”
“We have seen this in the US as Trump’s anti- Islam rhetoric directly lead to various attacks against Muslims. Muslim women, especially those wearing hijab, are especially vulnerable as they are indefinable targets.”
Think.Inc, the company organising Hirsi Ali’s tour to Australia (titled: ‘The Hero of Heresy’) does not see the visit in the same light.
The company’s spokeswoman Suzi Jamil told SBS Arabic 24 that the company provides a platform for individuals to discuss ideas and encourage discussion throughout society.
“We don’t feel that she’s spreading hate-speech and we don’t feel she is an Islamophobe, otherwise we wouldn’t be bringing her here,” says Jamil.
Ralf Schumann, the deputy president of the Australian far-right group the Q Society, tells SBS on behalf of the group “We welcome Ayaan Hirsi Ali.”
“She can travel wherever she likes and speak to whoever is interested to listen. No one is forced to buy a ticket.”
Women’s rights activist and high-profile restaurateur Hana Assafiri, who was recently added to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women for 2017, and runs the event ‘Speed Date a Muslim,’ is a spokeswoman for the online petition against Hirsi Ali.
“Violence against women is an expression of misogyny underscoring all societal systems,” Assafiri tells SBS.
The group’s statement rejects “any Islamic basis for the violence that occurred to Hirsi Ali in her life and the violence perpetrated to women all over the world who have fallen victim to culturally- influenced misogynistic abuse.”
“Society can readily identify the dangers of Geert Wilders and organise to protest against his message on the grounds that his discourse undermines the principles of a homogenous multicultural Australia,”says Assafiri.
“Yet Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who parrots the same conversation is not only embraced in some circles but also seen as a voice of elegance and reason in some more progressive circles regarding her views on reforming Islam.”
Doubt has been cast on various elements of Hirsi Ali’s story leading to questions about her credibility.
Samah Sabawi told SBS that Hirsi Ali was forced to step down from Parliament when a Dutch documentary revealed “Hirsi Ali lied to Dutch authorities about her past,” says Sabawi. ”She didn’t flee from civil war in Somalia but left before the war broke out and arrived in the Netherlands from Kenya.”
“She grew up in a secure environment, her family weren’t fanatic Muslims, her brother went to a Christian school, many other aspects of her story turned out to be a lie including her claim of threats of honour killing.”