Dutch-Muslim View of Europe's Future Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born member of Holland's Parliament whose criticism of Islam sent her into hiding after the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, joins us to discuss Islamic terrorism and the future of Muslims in Europe.
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Dutch-Muslim View of Europe's Future

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Dutch-Muslim View of Europe's Future

Dutch-Muslim View of Europe's Future

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This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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On November 2nd of last year, Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker and provocateur, was cycling to work when a man of Moroccan descent shot him several times and then slit his throat. Dutch authorities found a note with van Gogh's body. It was a threat to his friend, Dutch Parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali. An outspoken opponent of radical Islam, Hirsi Ali wrote of the script of van Gogh's film, called "Submission," which criticized the treatment of women in Islam.

In 1992, Ayaan Hirsi Ali emigrated to the Netherlands as a Muslim from Somalia, but has left the religion and become a vocal critic of it. In 2003, she was elected to the Dutch Parliament as a champion for the rights of Islamic women. Despite the death of van Gogh and numerous threats to her own life, Hirsi Ali remains a controversial and influential figure in Dutch politics.

If you have a question for Ayaan Hirsi Ali about her life, her politics, about Muslims in Europe, Islamic fundamentalism or about what she calls European values, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And the e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Joining us now is Ms. Hirsi Ali. She's with us by phone from The Hague in the Netherlands.

And it's nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. AYAAN HIRSI ALI (Dutch Parliament): Yes. Thank you.

CONAN: Hello.

Ms. HIRSI ALI: It's nice of you to have me on your program.

CONAN: When the movie "Submission" was released, did you have any idea of the reaction that it would prompt?

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Well, I thought it would prompt some discussion and debate, but I did not expect a murder.

CONAN: No, nobody expected a murder, I suspect. You still live under police protection?

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Yes, 24 hours police protection. But I have no regrets making the film, and I think the film has exposed a lot of the radicalism in the Netherlands.

CONAN: The death of Theo van Gogh, obviously you're not responsible in any way for that. I wonder, though, do you feel guilty somehow?

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Yes, you--in these kinds of things, people feel guilty. I do feel guilty about putting his name on the title ...(unintelligible), which was really more of his responsibility, but I remember having a discussion with him on that very, very often, and he was so committed to it. He was like, `But if I can't have my own name on my own film, then it's like living in any of these countries that have no freedom of speech, and I do not want to live in a country like that.' He had a name for it, Bavaria.

CONAN: You talk about freedom of speech, which you are exercising, and now your liberty has been dramatically curtailed. You can't go anywhere without police officers following you.

Ms. HIRSI ALI: That's right, but I think it's worth the sacrifice, because as borders fall off and as the world becomes a village, then there are some universal values that we, all of us, who believe in freedom have to fight for and have to defend, and being a Somali woman and growing up as a Muslim woman, I experienced individual freedom and opportunities in the Netherlands, and I'm just willing to fight for them and defend them and to make people here aware of those values, without having to denounce the Muslims as such. So it's always--it's a balancing act in which I have to be careful that I do not entice racists or people who dislike aliens or people from other countries, but at the same time make sure that the migrants who are here do not oppress their women in the name of liberal freedom.

CONAN: In the name of liberal freedom. The Netherlands is a very tolerant society, has long had a reputation for that. There are moments where Islam comes into conflict with some of those traditions of personal liberty that have existed in the Netherlands, particularly in relation to women.

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Yes, in relation to women, because women are in Islam a possession of their families, so fathers, brothers, cousins, nephews demand the right to do whatever they wish with their women family members in the name of tolerance, in the name of freedom. They say, `It's my religion. It's my culture. You as a nation should give me the freedom to exercise my religion.' And that is often oppressive or suppressive of women's rights.

It's also the freedom of conscience. If I decide to be a less practicing Muslim or try to leave the faith, then I think it's not up to my family or any other Muslim person to hurt me in any way. That freedom of conscience and tolerance that in the Netherlands is valued, but in close groups, certain groups, non-Western communities, it's been sensitive talking about that. And all the time we in the Netherlands and outside there have to stress that defending values of freedom is not equal to racism or xenophobic behavior.

CONAN: Tell us a little bit about your personal history. I know you were born in Somalia. Your father was the leader of a movement there. The whole family went into exile.

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Yes, several times. We left with my father--my father left first. He escaped from prison, and the family left with my mother, and we ended up in Saudi Arabia first. We lived there for a year, and then we went to Ethiopia, and then after one and a half years in Kenya--and I stayed there with my family about 11 years, and then I ended up in the Netherlands escaping an arranged marriage. Instead of going to Canada where my husband was living, I decided to go from Germany to the Netherlands, and I asked for asylum and I'm still here.

CONAN: And your first job was?

Ms. HIRSI ALI: I did all sorts of odd jobs--cleaning, and I did factory work and all sorts of, you know, I had to survive.

CONAN: But you also went to university in the Netherlands.

Ms. HIRSI ALI: In the Netherlands, yes. And the Netherlands is--it's a small country, but it's a very wealthy country, and education is free, and all you had to do was work hard and get your diploma to get into university, and I wanted to take political science because I wanted to understand the world I live in and why people from Africa were living in poverty and why we, the Muslims, were living in a state of war, civil war sometimes, or oppression, and why countries in Europe were so wealthy. So I thought I may get the answers if I did political science.

CONAN: Hmm. Did you find answers, do you think?

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Well, I think the most important answer I found was that if you compare communities that give the individual his or her rights and appreciate universal human rights, that they end up being wealthier and more peaceful than communities that do not do that. And unfortunately Africa, the Middle East and a number of other non-Western countries haven't gotten as far as getting this insight and putting it and implementing it.

CONAN: Our guest is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a member of the Dutch Parliament. If you'd like to join the conversation, (800) 989-8255. You can also send us e-mail: totn@npr.org.

And let's begin with Fernando (pronounced Fonnernomdo). Am I pronouncing that correctly?

FERNANDO (Caller): Fernando.

CONAN: Oh, Fernando, hello. Fernando in Miami, Florida.

FERNANDO: Hi. Hello, Ms. Ali. It's a pleasure to speak to you. I spent some time in Europe, and I was able to see firsthand the effects of Muslim immigration over there. I would love to ask you this one question. Do you think that Muslims are trying to Islamicize Europe and trying to submit Europeans to their way of thought, or they're just trying to intimidate them?

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Thank you, Mr. Fernando. I think your--the answer to your question cannot be absolute. There are some Muslims who indeed want to Islamize not only Europe, but the whole world, because that's what they believe. You know, most Muslims are brought up that it's a virtue to spread Islam. But they're also--and I think that goes for most Muslims--they're all trying to survive in Europe, and trying to, you know, find a job, have a life here, and are having a hard time doing all that. But the thing is, for those very radical Muslims who want to Islamize Europe, they're taking advantage of the weak position of these--mass Muslims, the larger group, and trying to persuade them to give up daily life aspirations and go into some kind of religious missionary work, which in Islam is not--cannot be seen to be different from politics. I mean, culture, politics and social life goes into each other.

So there are two answers possible to your question. Yes, there are some people who want to do that, and there are also others who don't want to, like myself, who appreciate the freedom that--and the tolerance that we enjoy in Europe.

FERNANDO: OK. Thank you. And that's pretty much what I wanted to hear. And have a nice day. God bless you.

CONAN: Fernando...

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Thank you very much. You, too. Bye.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Fernando.

FERNANDO: Bye-bye.

CONAN: And let's talk now with Zina(ph). Zina's calling from Nashua in New Hampshire.

ZINA (Caller): Yes, hello. I'm glad I got back on line. I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

ZINA: My comment was, I only heard about her after the murder, and I heard about her work. I am a Muslim myself. I grew up in the Middle East in different countries, and what I noticed was various countries that I lived in is that Islam gets interpreted differently in each country, and the more male dominant the society is, the more discrimination there is against women. It's--I noticed it's more of a cultural issue than a religious issue. Like in Saudi Arabia, for instance, or somewhere like Pakistan, where you have, like, extremists, I think there's more cultural than religious. Whereas where you go to Lebanon or Jordan, you have less discrimination and more rights. What does your guest think about that?

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Well, thank you. I think about that, that you're right, that it depends--many things depend on culture and on circumstance and context, but there is a passionate religious movement which is really political Islam, political religious at the same time, and what you now see is that countries that practiced their Islam in different ways--for example, the Islam in Somalia is, of course, very different from the one in Saudi Arabia, and that's yet different from the one in Turkey, and from the minorities living in the West. And what you see is that there's this universal movement of which we only know al-Qaeda as the most exponential, and there are other small groups, winning the hearts and minds of lots of Muslims, and that goes across borders. It's universal. And that you see there are still more and more individuals subscribing to that kind of radical Islam, and that's what's so worrying, and that's the difference between the Islam--let me give you an example.

I was living in Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985, and we were not aware of being Muslims because we took that for granted. And then in the--from '86 onwards, suddenly we became aware of being Muslims, and there was this movement. And from becoming obedient, well-behaved children and obeying Allah's laws, suddenly we discovered that we were hating Jews and Americans and others, and we were Muslims and others were not Muslims, and we were thinking in terms of enemies and friends. And so you see, we have to be careful between--it is a cultural thing, and it depends on every country, but there is a movement within Islam, a fundamentalist movement that's political, that's radical, that's military, and that's extremely dangerous.

CONAN: Zina...

ZINA: Yeah, I can--if I just can comment, I can associate that--when I lived in the Arabian Gulf, I can associate some extremist views and their teachings, but then living in Jordan and going on to be a Turkish citizen, it was very different Islam in those countries and very different with respect to women rights, and the more you go into villages and rural areas, the more oppression you see and the more education there is that blesses oppression you see. And I noticed I found more radicalism in the Muslim societies in USA, for instance--people who go to the mosque and stuff like that--than back home, and I try to stay away from them ...(unintelligible) because I don't like the views that are being taught to these young people, and the views that--political views that are taking control of Islam.

CONAN: Zina, thank you very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.

ZINA: Thank you. Thank you.

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Yeah. Good analysis.

CONAN: I have to say that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on, and this is Ihab(ph) calling from Greenville, North Carolina. I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly.

IHAB (Caller): That is correct. Thank you very much, yes.

CONAN: Go ahead.

IHAB: I see that especially after 9/11, I notice that Islam has become the low fence and that anyone who wants to get famous or wealthy or whatever, just start by attacking Islam. And in most of the cases, those who attack Islam and get all these condemnations about--lack the knowledge about what Islam is, have never really practiced Islam, or they are affected by personal experiences. In most of the cases, they're negative experiences. So it is just a case with your guest and other especially ladies nowadays, who start attacking Islam and attack the lack of freedom and the lack of rights for women in Islam, and I believe anyone who knows Islam and anyone who has lived Islam knows that this is absolutely the opposite. That Islam has given more rights than any other ideology or faith or belief, and the fact that all of these negative experiences that we hear about are due to the absence of Islam and not due to the application of Islam.

CONAN: Ayaan Hirsi Ali?

Ms. HIRSI ALI: Well, this is an argument I hear often. The thing is, if you look at reality, I would absolutely love to follow the questioner, but look at the whole of the Islamic world. Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, all the Gulf states, Somalia, I mean, there's just--for the third time there is an Arab Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program, and what all these Muslim countries have in common is the willingness to defend Islam on the one hand and say there's no correlation between Islam and the oppression of women or the oppression of the individual as such. But reality differs from that, and reality is consistent with what the fundamentalists are preaching, that the individual must submit his will to Allah, and that we have to emulate the way of the prophet as much as we can. And I know of a lot of Muslims who say, `But Islam was meant to be different.' But in that case, the faith itself and those who practice the faith, the ambassadors of the faith are giving a poor example of what peace and prosperity and freedom of women and freedom of individuality and the individual is. I would say to your guest: OK, if Islam is peace, then please prove it.

CONAN: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, thank you very much for speaking with us today.

Ms. HIRSI ALI: You're welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a member of the Dutch Parliament's Liberal Party. She joined us by phone from The Hague in the Netherlands.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

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