Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lost daughter: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Mary Wollstonecraft's sons and daughters: those whom she influenced, often long after her death. These are her prime legacy. Many of these people are "lost", either in the sense that they did not acknowledge how Mary touched their lives and thinking, or because those who write about them haven't picked up what references were made.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali falls into the latter category. She is a multiple exile, born in Somalia to a rebel leader, but raised in Saudi and Ethiopia and Kenya; she escaped alone to the Netherlands to avoid an arranged marriage, where she reinvented herself, studied political science, and got elected MP; and now has another life as an exile once more, this time in the United States. In the aftermath of 9/11 she decisively rejected Islam, the religion of her birth, and took on the mantle of atheism. This rejection is largely due to the abuses she sees that religion perpetrating on women -- indeed, she is one of the world's most high profile critics of Islam. You may remember the case of the Dutch film-maker who was murdered in the street for his brief video about domestic violence justified by Koranic verses; his name was Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali was working with him on that film, Submission.

She entitled her memoirs Infidel, and there discusses Mary Wollstonecraft. She was considering doing a PhD, and in a conversation with one woman, turned away from the idea and towards more direct politics. From page 295:
What was I trying to achieve? Three things: first, I wanted Holland to wake up and stop tolerating the oppression of Muslim women in its midst....Second, I wanted to spark a debate among Muslims about reforming aspects of Islam so that people could begin to question, and criticize, their own beliefs.... 
Third, I wanted Muslim women to realize just how bad, and how unacceptable, their suffering was. I wanted to help them develop the vocabulary of resistance. I was inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering feminist thinker who told women they had the same ability to reason as men did and deserved the same rights. Even after she published A Vindication of the Rights of Women [sic], it took more than a century before the suffragettes marched for the vote. I knew that freeing Muslim women from their mental cage would take time, too. I didn't expect immediate waves of organized support among Muslim women. People who are conditioned to meekness, almost to the point where they have no mind of their own, sadly have no ability to organize, or will to express their opinion. 
In 2007 she set up the AHA Foundation (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, geddit?) in the United States. The website strapline says simply "Women everywhere, of all cultures, merit access to education and basic human rights".
The AHA Foundation works to reinforce the following basic rights: the rights of women and girls to security and control of their own bodies, the rights of women and girls to an education, the rights of women to work outside the home and to control their own income, the rights of women and girls to freedom of expression and association, and the rights of women and girls to other basic civil rights of citizens and residents defined under the laws of Western democracies and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, regardless of sexual identification.
And from a recent interview in the Guardian:
Why, she asks, are voices such as [Germaine] Greer's not speaking out against the subjugation of women in the Muslim world? She calls for a new feminism, "that is going to focus on issues faced by non-western women, because they are the biggest issues. To own your own sexuality, as an adult woman; to choose your own lifestyle; to have access to education.... These things, I think, are more basic than the stuff that current feminists are concerning themselves with – like shattering the glass ceiling or finding a balance between work and home life.... There is feminism that has evolved to a kind of luxury." 
Another blogging co-incidence: I'd had this post lined up for a while, and only a couple of hours ago discovered that today is Kartini Day, the national holiday of the world's most populous Islamic country, Indonesia. Is there anyone there who can comment on the situation?

1 comment:

  1. Great project. Thanks.

    I share an interest.

    I agree about the filmed drama, have had similar ideas. There is nothing new under the sun and in the film business.

    About to set up a small marketing programme for a repeat of my Mary Shelley hosted drama walk. This is one of 12 I am the Producer for.

    Can I let you have the details of the May 2011 performance? Plan to promote at the National Theatre (guerilla not official).

    Sorry I missed your gig a few days ago, hope it went well. So Montreal.
    nka films :: camden town