Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Free Speech

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiography Infidel is a very powerful book. Her life and experiences as a young Muslim woman and later move towards atheism is inspirational and disturbing in equal measure. I would recommend this book to anyone as it gives a unique insight into the mindset of the Somali people, tied or opposed to each other by clan affiliation as well as religious and political ideologies. Every chapter is scary and revealing, with women suffering under strict social conventions all drawn from religious justifications and yet an inspirational story when seen as a personal liberation from that oppressive life. The only problem I had with the book, however,  was dealing with how angry and frustrated I got whenever I sat down to read it. Not wanting to give away too much, the book is an autobiography leading up to Ayaans eventual entry into politics and political office. From there she fights and speaks out against the injustices of Islam, particularly those visited upon the women in refugee communities in the Netherlands. The book opens with an account of the murder of her colleague, Theo Van Gogh, by a zealous Muslim in response to him releasing a film with her that criticised Islam. The account of the fallout of that film is genuinely scary and Theo’s death is only the beginning. What this story represents to me is how important free speech is to society and how much of a threat Islam represents to that right.

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As I read, I saw parallels with the Dutch culture of Ayaan’s book and the current climate here in Ireland. We are becoming a more and more multicultural island every day and with that, cultures and practices from all over the world are being introduced to Irish society. I welcome this completely and think it’s an exposure that Ireland has been too long without. The risk for us is only that we don’t do enough to support this integration and that a sense of alienation might fester and force minority groups to associate only within their own culture. This is a situation which can lead to a lot of social unrest and at the minimum can prevent a means of dialogue between cultural groups. Last year there was a march on O’Connell street in Dublin in opposition to blasphemous material on YouTube  It was a call for the suppression of ideas and it was, as is usually the case, driven by religious justification. We already have a widely mocked blasphemy law in this country and despite its lack of enforcement we don’t need to be fighting this battle on yet another ground. The cultural isolation of groups who support the protest will only make it harder for us to convince them and oppose their efforts. Then there is the matter of us being able to prevent injustices within those societies especially when it comes to the rights of women, homosexuals and just people with sense enough to see that their faith is drawn from the plagarised rantings of a man who most likely just had epileptic fits in the desert and who we now can’t draw pictures of.

I would bet money that a lot of people will argue that these immigrants are entitled to continue the traditions of their homelands and I definitely agree. I think certainly as much effort should be spent introducing us to their customs as is spent acclimatising them to ours.  However, this can only happen when people understand that  those traditions can’t impose on the principles of the country they are now living in. I’m sure that some people will accuse me of Islamaphobia also, which when googled will return the definition ‘Irrational fear of all Muslims’ but that is not the case. The truth is I am afraid of Islam itself and with good reason. I am afraid, because even Islam’s claimed message of peace is delivered at a knife end. Accept us as peaceful and benevolent, or else. I also fear the capitulation of governments and the accommodation of Islam beliefs within our societies especially with regard to the barbaric Sharia Law. Respecting a religion’s right to be practiced and deciding when that practice infringes on the rights of the individual is dangerous political ground but nonetheless the decision is obvious. My opinion on the rights of women or the legitimacy of homosexual lifestyles for example should have no impact on how they are treated with respect to everyone else and no one should be allowed to step outside the law and impose their own judgements on others. We must fight for everyone’s rights to be exactly the same as our own. Despite it being obviously morally wrong, to do otherwise would be to invite infringement on my own rights by setting a precedent whereby this is seen as acceptable. The right to religion and religious expression and the right to freedom of opinion and free speech are one and the same.  They should be fought for equally but never at the expense of the other.

It’s important to note that I know that not all and in fact the majority of Muslims are opposed to Sharia with respect to the more extreme practices but they give support to those who do follow them by saying that Islam is the truth and is the final revelation.  In a world where tolerance for other religious ideologies is regularly called for, you only have to look to the recent case (here:  http://www.independent.ie/world-news/asia-pacific/teenage-rape-victim-sentenced-to-100-lashes-in-maldives-29165507.html) of the girl in the Maldives sentenced to one hundred lashes for the crime of engaging in premarital sex to see that tolerance is not always an option and that outright condemnation is needed. The sentencing in this horrible story is made even worse when you find out the sexual act was discovered while she was being questioned by the police about being raped by her stepfather. The stepfather also allegedly killed an infant child that the girl had conceived as a result of the rapes. This is an account from a supposed modern day culture that regularly has visitors from Irish and other Western countries and this is not reflective of the view most people have of the Maldives. Just because it isn’t obvious doesn’t mean it’s not there though and complacency is a crime in itself when it means the suffering of innocent people at the hands of religious zealots, especially when they are the people charged with protecting you.

Whether it’s holidaying in the Maldives or welcoming new peoples to setup lives in Ireland, we have a responsibility. If we live alongside these cultures, by ignoring the injustices they promote or merely being ignorant of them, we lend tacit approval to them. From the shadows these beliefs and practices inevitably rear their ugly heads and we have an obligation, not to react but to preemptively condemn them. The teachings of Islam are in direct opposition to the values of free speech and the rights of the individual, especially the women who are born into these societies. Public awareness and understanding about the religiously driven foundations of these beliefs is the best mechanism by which we can educate ourselves and fight against its influence and the inevitable influence its will demand to have on the basis of equality and religious tolerance. You have the right to hold any belief you choose as long as that belief doesn’t infringe on my rights. For that you need justification outside of a faith and more than a poorly founded understanding of morality drawn from ancient texts. I can criticise you and you can disagree and fight me on it but you cannot hold a knife to my throat and say that me voicing my opinions is justification for that violence. No reasonable and correct view would require that kind of coercion and I won’t respect any that uses it.

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