What Does It Really Mean for Women to be ‘Free & Equal’? A Talk by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently spoke at the Sydney Opera House-hosted All About Women conference about how everyone ought to condemn cultural practices such as honor killings, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation:

I haven’t had a chance to watch the whole talk yet, but please leave important timestamps/summaries in the comments.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Sean Lissemore

    This is where I have a problem with the New Atheist movement. Radical Islam is one extreme and Ali is on the other end. I feel sympathy for what she went through at the hands of radical Islam, but that doesn’t excuse her neo-con and a bigoted ideology. Here she is expressing sympathy for the Norwegian terrorist who attacked a liberal camp for children that killed 77:

    “Fourthly and finally, that one man who killed 77 people in Norway,
    because he fears that Europe will be overrun by Islam, may have cited
    the work of those who speak and write against political Islam in Europe
    and America – myself among them – but he does not say in his 1500 page
    manifesto that it was these people who inspired him to kill. He says
    very clearly that it was the advocates of silence. Because all outlets
    to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but
    to use violence.”

    And this:

    Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with
    Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in
    many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at
    present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re
    the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the
    schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol
    burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex
    your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this
    anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

    Reason: Militarily?

    Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.


  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i can understand why she feels the way she does. i’m sorry it has to be so useful for her to become a tool of the far right in europe and other circles who want to focus exclusively on Islam and practice Islamophobia.

    She’s entitled to her perspectives and priorities. I’m sorry I won’t be joining her, for i have far too much to focus upon right here in the “enlightened” west. it’s xtians and xtian fundamentalists making my life difficult. it’ll be a long time before the ~2% muslim population in the US worries me like the xtian majority does. her situation may be different as a european, but she should take care about with whom she associates. the european far right hates not-white people of all sorts, just like our far right. once they eliminate muslims in europe, they’ll turn on immigrants like herself next.

  • Sean lissemore

    And surprise surprise Sam Harris loves her.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Sam Harris is free to love or appreciate anyone he damn well pleases.

  • Sean Lissemore


  • Nick

    Considering who carried out the Boston bombings, she may have been right about the dangers of Western converts to Islam.

  • Andrew B.

    “i’m sorry it has to be so useful for her to become a tool of the far
    right in europe and other circles who want to focus exclusively on Islam
    and practice Islamophobia.”

    So because members of the “far-right” are behind her, you’ve decided to withhold support from her campaign against female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and honour killings? That sounds reasonable. I used to raise people’s consciousness about global warming but stopped when I heard Ted Kaczynski believed in it too. Now I’m in favor of global warming.

  • Sean Lissemore

    Actually studies have shown that U.S. Muslims are less radicalized than European Muslims precisely because our society is more accepting of them. Taking an aggressive stance towards them is idiotic.

    And Arizona, Auroa, and Newtown were all white guys. The common thread here is young males. Not religion.

  • Sean Lissemore

    she is also a neo-con and a militarist who wants the West to use their iron fist. Because bombing and killing Muslim children certainly will decrease the amount of terrorists being recruited by Al Qaeda [/sarcasm]

  • Chris B

    The common thread is mental illness, not young males, nor religion.

  • Andrew B.

    And the relevance to my point is what, exactly?

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Specifically, which mental illness have you decided they are suffering from?

    I’m going to guess you mean you cannot imagine the thought processes that would allow them to do such terrible things. Some people would say simply that they are monsters. All of this makes it easier to hide from ourselves that in other circumstances we might be capable of such awful things ourselves.

    Rather than a mental illness, this is the same condition that military training seeks to achieve. Call it radicalisation, boot camp or brain washing, it’s how you get people to kill for a cause.

    Young males do seem to be the ones most often selected to be the fighter and killers. Religion, when it is not the primary cause is often used to motivate or support the fighters.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Gee, I’m just so thrilled to be the fucking scapegoat every fucking time something like this happens.

    It’s never even considered that religion might be the culprit, or that these young men were taught that they’re owed X, Y, and Z, and when they don’t get X, Y, and Z, they go fucking ballistic because oh my gods, the wimmenz aren’t falling all over me and success isn’t raining down from above, I MUST HAVE VENGEANCE!

    Nope, it’s an immediate jump to, “they must have been crazy, only someone sick would do that.”

    Here’s a thought — stop teaching men that they’re entitled to anything (beyond very basic civility) from women. Stop portraying us (along with wealth, fame, and material goods) as the Ultimate Reward for Success. Stop telling men that we’re only here for their pleasure. And stop, STOP pushing violence as The Solution To Everything!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

    No, it isn’t.

    People with mental illness are far more likely to be _victims_ of violence than they are to be instigators, and the majority of violent criminals do not have a mental illness.

    Doing something evil is not equal to being mentally ill, and falsely equating the two is _wrong_.

  • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

    I just wrote about the far right in Europe yesterday in some comments on my own page. So here goes:

    I’ve lived in Europe for years. In fact, I’ve lived in the UK and France and I happen to also speak fluent French. I’m not a huge fan of Pat Condell, but I understand where he’s coming from. I understand enough about European politics to know what the problems are. I think that most Americans don’t know jack shit about European politics or history – especially modern history. They certainly don’t know enough to comment on the political process going on in various countries in Europe, and they certainly don’t know enough to make judgments on Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Pat Condell and their like for saying the things which they say.

    You appear to be one of those people.

    But instead of outright insulting you and leaving it there, I’m going to try to enlighten you just a modicum. Europe is not America. Europe definitely has a “Muslim Problem” – I’m not talking about Muslims being bad people, or Muslims shouldn’t be there, or Muslims are all trying to take over. Europe has a “Muslim Problem” which is in part due to Muslims, but also due in part to European social orders. Europe does not appear to know how to integrate Muslims who immigrate from third world countries in the same way that America does. But here’s the clincher: Europe does not appear to even want to *discuss* the problem about integration. Instead, Muslims are shoved into the banlieux (the suburbs) and left to fester. These Muslims come from countries with incredible percentages of heterogeneity, where Islam is sometimes 90+% of the population, where they are accorded rights above any other group, and where their cultural practices are the norm and they can spit on anyone who isn’t part of their group. The older Muslim generations didn’t feel this way and integrated better into the European societies. The younger ones have become radicalized because they are having a hard time adapting to the fact that they are not the majority and their cultural practices are ignored.

    That’s why their mosques are becoming their hangouts – because they don’t feel alienated there.

    I know this sounds like a lot of progressive crap, and I’m not a progressive, so I’m going to add in some additional information:

    People point to the right wing in Europe for discussing the dangers of these things. Well, that’s because there are *no other voices* in the political sphere in Europe who are willing to tackle these subjects. This is a major issue which the mainstream politicians are unwilling to broach for fear that it might get them thrown out of office. Europe’s media tends to be much more homogeneous than American media. You can’t just say any old thing in the media because:

    1) It can be considered impolite

    2) It could be construed as hate speech which is illegal and prosecutable under the law.

    So the vast centre of Europe doesn’t see any outlet for expressing their views other than the extreme right wing, or the extreme left wing when it comes to this issue. The extreme left wing thinks that there should be an open door policy bar none in the history of mankind on not only immigration, but illegal immigration as well. The extreme right wing doesn’t give a damn if they are prosecuted and labeled racists because they get more free publicity and get more attention, thus drawing in more people who are outraged that others are being prosecuted for free speech.

    You’ll kindly note that most people who are under threat of death from Islamists in Europe are *not* right wingers. No, indeed, they are almost exclusively on the liberal side. People like Ayaan, or Laars Hedegaarde, or Flemming Rose, or Robert Redecker, or even at times Henri-Bernard Levy. The people who have been *killed* by Islamists in famous cases are Theo Van Goh and Pym Fortuyn – *both* liberals, not right wing extremists.

    The right wingers are happily engaging in shoutfests with the Islamists and do not appear to fear for their lives. Why is that? Because the Islamists don’t care about what they say. Europe is a mostly liberal society, with various degrees within each country of course, and the real threat comes from liberals who speak up because they dominate the conversation. That’s why you don’t get right wingers in hiding.

    As a liberal person, which your post leads me to believe that you are, you should at least be sympathetic with their plight. THEY notice that something is going on – they who are coming from a liberal background of defending the poor, making a classless society, fighting racism, giving rights to women and gays and other minorities. They’re noticing a trend which scares the shit out of them so much that some of them are willing to risk going into hiding for the rest of their lives simply to state it.

    You sit there comfortably and you judge them by your own pretentious little standards because you don’t perceive the threat that they do from your little haven in America. Well, I’m sorry to say that you’re being a bloody selfish little whiner about it.

    I’d like to further point out another thing: When these people in Europe are bitching about Muslim immigration, it almost *is* exclusively about religion and integration. It *isn’t* about “Brown people”. That is utter bullshit except for the 1% of open racists in Europe. And my proof?

    Well, there are millions of Indian Hindus in Europe too – half of those in the UK. Have you heard anyone bitching about Hindu immigration? I haven’t. Can you think why? There are also millions of Chinese immigrants in Europe. Has anyone here heard much about how Europe should restrict Chinese immigration? I haven’t. Chinese people aren’t “white” and white racists know that full well.

    The reason you don’t hear about it is because you don’t have extremist Hindu temples and Chinese Buddhists running around saying that anyone who insults their religion needs to be killed. The reason is because they don’t try to take over their neighborhoods and install their version of Shari’a for everyone else. The reason is because they don’t *demand* anything from the government because of the religious aspect of their birth.

    The reason is because they understand how to integrate into European society far better than some Muslim immigrants do. They come from societies just as alien and foreign as Muslim immigrants, and yet they can cope better en masse than many Muslim immigrants.

    So keep that in mind the next time you try to judge what is going on in Europe and what Ayaan is trying to do.

  • Barael

    Wow. Male privilege is now the leading cause of terrorism? Astounding new finding!

  • Pitchguest

    What in FSM are you talking about?

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Well you don’t see women doing shit like this, do ya? No! It’s always men.

    If these acts were not limited to men, you might have a point…

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    The fact that every act of terrorism, domestic or foreign, that has occurred on American soil has been committed by one or more men.

    There’s obviously a link between toxic masculinity and terrorism.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Well, then — make them fucking assimilate, or ship them back to wherever the fuck they wandered in from. Stop letting them form these enclaves!

  • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

    Note: I like your style. I enjoyed that.

    Reply: How are you just going to “make them assimilate”?

    I personally am not for “shipping off” anyone who has migrated to Europe. I find that solution to be not only unethical in the highest degree, but also impractical as well. It’s not a real solution – that is, not for the vast majority who are good people and trying their best to get along. People such as Abu Qatada should be sent back post haste, of course.

    And before you can deal with the problem you have going on, you need to somewhat slow down the flow. Mainstream conservatives such as Douglas Murray have pointed out in debates that they are not against immigration at all (and neither am I). All that they are asking for is that the door be pushed slightly closed – not firmly shut. They can’t even get the politicians to agree to do that, so I’m not sure exactly how they’re going to propose to deal with the other issues which stem from it.

  • Pitchguest

    I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. You said something about being a scapegoat (scapegoat for what?), and then you added religion and mental illness into the mix, and then male entitlement. There is no common thread.

    Are you saying religion is responsible or “toxic masculinity”? If mental illness enters into it, why do you become a “scapegoat”? Do they blame women for terrorism? Do only women carry mental illness, hence when someone blamed mental illness they blamed you?

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Religion is a big part of it, of course, but it’s a small part of >>a larger problem in society.

    Mental illness has nothing to do with why these tragedies happen — but somehow, every time, the mass murderer is portrayed as a “lone nut”, “mentally ill”, there’s no fucking introspection. No fucking examination of the culture, of society, of the ways we encourage boys to solve problems with violence, the way we promise success and wealth and “hot chicks” (“AXE*” adverts…), the idea that male privilege is unassailable.

    If, if mental illness were the common denominator, we’d see more mass murders, and they’d be committed by a diverse group of individuals, and not, as we repeatedly see, young men.

    The single common denominator in all of these cases — from serial killers, to bombers, to mass murderers — is gender. (With the very rare instance of female serial killers, whose tactics and motives are often a result of being the victim of male violence.)

    Given that, the only possible answer is: toxic masculinity.

    *”AXE” — because “Mace” was already taken.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Make a certain level of assimilation a requirement of immigration.

    If they don’t like it, tough shit, GTFO. If they can’t (or simply won’t) treat women as full equals, tough shit, GTFO. If they refuse to submit to secular authority, tough shit, GTFO. If they insist on having separate “religious” courts*, tough shit, GTFO.

    If they want to come here, and be citizens, and all that shit, hey, they need to adapt and assimilate instead of forcing their primitive bullshit on everyone else.

    *These are often used to oppress women and children and keep them under the authority and control of abusive men. Worse, the women are led to believe these courts are officially sanctioned and legally binding, when they are, in fact, a violation of her rights.

  • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

    Once again, I actually enjoy your boisterous responses.

    I agree completely. But I’m also a pragmatist and realist. Europe is a continent which still has not forgotten the atrocities of seventy years ago, nor will they so easily. Unfortunately, many in Europe liken the “plight” of Muslim immigrants to Jews. I’ve written extensively how the two are completely different in every way, so I won’t get into that here. Please note that although I say that, I am not advocating for racism against Muslims with the idea that it “doesn’t count” as they are not Jews. I’m just saying that the concerns that some have about Muslims are not related in any way to the situation of the Jews of Europe in centuries past.

    But because Europe equates them in almost every way, they will never actually tell people to “GTFO”. To most Europeans, this is anathema to how they think – at least, as far as I’ve seen it. Gauging from the political process, which relies heavily on consensus rather than majority, it will be an impossible task.

    However, there are some who are actually starting to think this way, or at least are starting to come to the realization that something has to be done and a “get tough” policy is needed in terms of education and all the rest.

    It just isn’t going to be solved in a black or white draconian way if Europe has anything to say about it. That is, unless things come to a head in the next twenty or thirty years. That’s what I fear: a real revival of fascism in a continent tired of going overboard on the laissez faire policies of previous governments in rejection of all they had done during the last century.

    I will hastily add that the reason I don’t think that the attitudes towards Jews last century are comparable to the attitudes towards Muslims today is for various reasons. But one of those reasons is that the Jews have not been a majority in any country since 70AD until the foundation of the modern state of israel. For nearly two thousand years, Jews lived as a minority and had adapted their religion, philosophy and, even more importantly, their culture to that of a minority. Jews did not go around murdering people in the streets for being “infidels”, or demand that people met with their religious cultural norms. Most Jews, in fact, sought to erase themselves from the national consciousness of where they were living. It was not by choice that they were wearing badges and hats to declare their cultural heritage.

    Muslims, on the other hand, are not coming from a minority perspective. Theirs is not a religion or culture which seeks to simply adapt, conform, and blend in. They are coming from a somewhat dominant position into a position of submission to another kind (ironic, eh? given what “Islam” means). They don’t know how to deal with it. They make cultural demands because that’s the way they were brought up – that’s their norm. Their “temple” was never destroyed, as was the temple of the Jews by the Romans. The Muslim “Temple” still exists and has not been completely defeated and broken. Some might say, historically, that the best thing which ever happened to the Jews was the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD, because it taught the Jews to change completely in different societies as a scattered people, and taught them to survive and concentrate on science and other disciplines. This has never happened to the Muslims.

    So the two peoples, in terms of concerns from the outside, are completely different.

    Sorry I’d write more and I know it’s a bit here and there without much form, but I’m writing on another subject on a deadline at the moment and I need to get my work done. =)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rocky-Morrison/100001552602936 Rocky Morrison

    Because killing more Muslims…and you could not kill them fast enough to keep Ali happy…is not going to stop honor killings and the like.

  • Barael

    Damn. Better go and turn myself in before my testosterone poisoning makes me blow something up. How much do you get for potential terrorism these days? Can you get lighter sentencing if you admit to being a potential rapist as well?

  • John (not McCain)

    “Reply: How are you just going to “make them assimilate”?”

    Nanoprobes, obviously.

  • Sean lissemore

    Us men have it so hard. [/sarcasm]

  • Eli

    Since wmdkitty qualified “masculinity” with “toxic”, I think she’s (he’s?) referring to a specific cultural concept of masculinity that s/he finds harmful, not necessarily “masculinity” as a broad trait. And certainly, masculinity in any context is not the same thing as simply being male or having testosterone, as you seem to be equating and reacting to. (in other words, criticizing a cultural concept of masculinity is not the same thing as criticizing men for being male). I’m not saying I necessarily agree with her argument, but you do seem to be generalizing too broadly about her point.

  • Carpinions

    Maybe I missed something but why is American soil the locus of the issue? Why not anywhere else? Because I can guarantee you, if you include global terrorism, women are definitely involved. Equally? No. Involved? Yes.

  • Y. A. Warren

    I think this woman is delusional about what we can do other than offer our good example as westerners. i have attempted many interventions for feuding families, at which time I’m the one who gets shot at. here is a piece from my blog OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com:

    Save the Males!

    I have a third-grade teacher friend who is worried about the future of males; I share her concern. She believes we need a movement to “save the males;” I believe the males need to take seriously the need to save themselves and their unique contributions to society. Women’s choices have been unleashed by effective conception control, and men have been treating our new options as a cute trick that they don’t have to take seriously.

    My friend is a school teacher for a mostly black and Hispanic population. She has noticed that many of the boys coming to school are not ready to learn. Has this always been the case? I have heard for years that boys tend to be three years behind girls in “maturity.” Girls seem to be reaching puberty earlier and earlier, while males seem to be less and less fertile. If we hold boys out of school for longer, will this set them back even more? Or should we put them in pre-school even earlier than their female counterparts? Maybe we simply need more men at home, setting examples of impulse control and compassionate caring.

    Without forcible draft for unskilled warriors and with the advent of industrialization making brains more valuable than brawn, what is the future for those males that are not at the top of the educational ladder? Is it to be the same, or worse, than the women in the past who were not born with great physical beauty or family wealth to overcome this handicap?

    We still have too many males coming into the world in old-fashioned patriarchal societies, where women defer to their infant boys’ demands. Those who have impulse control will eventually control others. The female ability to wait and gestate ideas, plans, and progeny may be outpacing the need for physical superiority. What are we, as mothers, sisters, wives of the males to do? Should we hold back the females or give the males responsibilities other than procreation and protection of the children?

    If we are to re-define the role of males as nurturers with greater bursts of physical energy, we must be willing to share with them the skills of nurture and nesting. How else can we hope to create true parenting partnerships? We must share with them the secrets of our own waiting periods instead of scorning them for their own “stop and start” behaviors. They must be willing to give up their macho images for the sweetly sacred innocence of a child’s trust.

    If we will not incorporate men into our secret societies of settling down to family life, we may be looking at a future without males. IVF is a first step to separating procreation from emotional bonding of parents. Cloning isn’t very far in the future. Cells, science, and a womb are all that is necessary to create life without a male. There is now the real possibility of a world of only women. Is this the future we want to see?

    Religions of the world need to take note and stop placing gender definitions on The Sacred Spirit’s manifestations. It seems that our earth needs both male and female energy in order to prosper. Humans may succeed in fooling nature, but cloned life will lose part of its strength and increase part of its inherent weakness in every subsequent generation. Think of this fact from many years of animal husbandry before you answer this question.

  • Little Magpie

    Chechens aren’t “Western converts to Islam” – in the sense that I would be if I were to convert. While not everyone in Chechnya is Muslim, the communities which are have been that way for a very long time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gretchen.robinson.5 Gretchen Robinson

    “mental illness” has not been proven.

    The common thread is any group which feels itself humiliated and shamed. Typically shame leads to violence-in males and domination of their women. Shame is a subject we’d prefer not to study or think about, so it’s rarely discussed. Thus it works on humans and is ‘unspeakable.’ Anything unspeakable is dangerous; violence can flare up at any time, often out of proportion to the incident that provoked it.

    The clearest part of her postings are that Muslims have always have had hegemony over other groups within their culture or homeland, even as other religions were tolerated. Now it’s no longer Muslim ‘men on top’ and they feel this as shameful, feel humiliated. This most patriarchal of religions (next to the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy) has to learn, the lessons many religious groups and individuals have learned, that their religion is not privileged over others. Jews had to learn to endure and adapt, to survive the dominionists of their time, whatever century.

  • Lela I. Morgan

    Summer, It sounds as tho only you could possibly know more than anyone else. I have a rude awakening for you, you Don’t. I have many British friends, and they say the opposit of what you are saying. I love their free spirit and independent personalities. They do not allow others to define for them who or what they are.