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Ali is pop star of intolerance

By Greg Barns - posted Monday, 4 June 2007


She’s a hero to right-wing rabble rousers like The Australian's Janet Albrechtsen and low-rent current affairs programs such as Today Tonight. In fact, any Australian media personality or outlet that loves to stoke the fires of division between Muslim Australia and Christian Australia is enamoured of the former Dutch politician and polemicist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ali has made quite a name for herself by fulminating against the treatment of Muslim women, calling for controls on immigration, damning multiculturalism and having her Dutch citizenship cancelled because she lied in her immigration application.

Around the globe Ali trots, giving lectures and speeches, writing articles and surrounding herself with beefy bodyguards just to emphasise the point that she really is a brave soul who is under threat of execution at any moment. Last week she was a guest of the Sydney Writers' Festival.

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But what is the reality of Ms Ali? Well, despite what her conservative patrons and supporters will have you believe, this woman is often xenophobic, has a fundamentalist view of the world and is surprisingly intolerant of other perspectives on life. If she were a genuine leader she would seek dialogue and consensus, but instead she seeks to divide the world into good and evil.

For example, Ali praises Catholicism and Judaism because, unlike Islam, she says they are tolerant religions. Talk about simplistic. Perhaps Ali has not viewed the American current affairs program Frontline's inside look at Jewish extremism.

Shown in 2005, this program analysed the growing threat of Jewish extremism in Israel. It included this quote from Mike Guzofsky, a leading extremist who thinks he's a hero: "I think the day will come when the secret service and the government will look for Jews who are willing to risk their lives and go into Arab villages and kick them out, kill them, and we have thousands of civilians with the military know-how to instigate a mega-attack against Arabs."

And what about Catholicism, and Christianity in general for that matter? Yes, there are decent, tolerant individuals who practice Catholicism and other Christian faiths, but remember the Catholic Church thinks being a practicing homosexual is a sin and it will not allow the ordination of women priests. And other Christian faiths, particularly in the US, are racist, bigoted and all too ready to applaud the death penalty.

On the other hand, there is very definitely within Islam a strong liberal and progressive tradition, despite Ali's populist attempts to portray things otherwise. Scholars such as Harvard University's Ali Asani have written eloquently about the fact that the foundation document of Islam, the Koran, stresses tolerance and unity.

And as a leading Muslim feminist scholar, Amina Wadud of Virginia's Commonwealth University, observes: "The Koran provides women with explicit rights to inheritance, independent property, divorce and the right to testify in a court of law. It prohibits wanton violence towards women and girls and is against duress in marriage and community affairs. Women and men equally are required to fulfill all religious duties and are equally eligible for punishment for misdemeanors."

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In short, just as there is oppression, human rights abuse and other forms of intolerance committed in the name of Islam, so there is in Judaism and Christianity. That's the nature of religion. But by emphasising only the bad and ugly in Islam, Ali feeds prejudice and division.

Ali's greatest flaw is, however, in joining in with the xenophobic conservatives in the Netherlands and other parts of the world in condemning Muslim migration. Ali fuels the irrational fears of those who believe that Muslim migrants are swamping Europe and bent on turning that continent into a theocracy.

This is nonsense. Migrants from Muslim countries are, in the main, like migrants from any other society. They seek a better life for themselves and their children. They want to work hard, contribute to the community, be allowed to practice their religion and become patriotic citizens of their adopted homeland.

This is certainly the case in the Netherlands, despite what Ali and her new found friends on the right of politics might have you believe. Professor Karen Pahlet, of the European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations in Utrecht, wrote in 2005 that her research confirmed that: "In the public sphere, Muslim minorities share with native Dutch a broad normative consensus on core democratic values and procedures." And the University of Amsterdam's Jean Tillie says most Muslims in the Netherlands are engaged in the liberal democratic process.

The media should stop lauding Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is not an agent of peace and understanding. She is simply strutting her stuff on the stage like a pop star. And at the same time, she makes life more difficult for Muslims wherever she goes.

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First published in The Mercury on June 4, 2007.



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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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