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Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes Islam as a religion of violence

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Forty-seven strong, the biggest-ever gathering of the Monday Group — which assembles to break bread together while listening to a range of authors and civic leaders — welcomed Ayaan Hirsi Alilast week at Park Tavern.

Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia, subjected to female genital mutilation as a child, and became an advocate and activist, first for women’s rights, then against Islam’s violent elements. She escaped her family after she was married off against her will, and fled to Holland, where, in 2003, she was elected to the Dutch parliament. After a challenge to her Dutch citizenship, she resigned that post, left Europe and resettled in the United States. Nowadays, she lives with her husband and child and lectures at universities and other places. In “Heretic,” her latest book, she expounds her strongly held belief — with which she began her remarks at lunch — that “Islam is not a religion of peace.”

Hirsi Ali has made her voice heard around the world — including TV appearances with Bill Maher and Jon Stewart — on those theses. She’s soft-spoken and dignified, a practiced educator imparting a message incendiary among Muslims (she travels with security) and particularly stirring to women, including this roomful of the well informed and well educated.

Almost a fifth of the world’s population is Muslim, she said at lunch, including a group she identifies as Medina, who draw their interpretations of Islam from Muhammadan military victories. It’s those Muslims who are the proponents of jihad and Shariah law. At the same time, she says, “an enormous group of reformers are disgusted by the terrorists using the teachings of Muhammad to justify their acts of terror.”

“For that group, this book was written … a push to abandon Medina and move to reform, to take a courageous step.” She challenges the Muslim “narrative of death” for making death preferable to life, and describes Shariah law as “outdated.” Describing bloggers hacked to death for expressing their views, she nonetheless urges critical thinking. The Quran, says Hirsi Ali, is “like a history book that’s in a museum. You can’t use it as a driver’s manual for the 21st century.”

At the first session of a study group she was conducting at the Kennedy School, she said, a student from Qatar denounced her: “‘She is a liar. … She is not telling the truth.’ It was my class. I had the prerogative to say, ‘Get out.’ I didn’t. But any time someone critical starts to teach, you get this vicious opposition.”

Much response to Hirsi Ali’s written assertions, for example, that “Islamic violence is rooted not in social, economic, or political conditions — or even in theological error — but rather in the foundational texts of Islam” — is furious. Last year, Brandeis University, which had been planning to give her an honorary degree, backed out when confronted with fierce protests from Muslim students.

But “it’s not because of me that we are changing the conversation” about Islam, she said at lunch. “It’s the bad guys that are changing the conversation.”

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