Outspoken critic of Islam states her case at UF

Ayann Hirsi Ali has repeatedly denounced Islam for what she sees as its violent nature.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (AP file photo)

Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 9:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 11:04 p.m.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali brought her critique of Islam to the University of Florida on Thursday, railing against the religion for the violence and oppression of women that she experienced firsthand.

It's the same subject as "Submission," the movie she wrote the screenplay for while living in the Netherlands. She recounted filmmaker Theo van Gogh's murder as a result of the movie and the killer's threat against her.

"Given that experience, you will not be surprised if I am critical of Islamic theology," she said

Hirsi Ali spoke to an audience of more than 200 people packed into UF's Bob Graham Center for Public Service. A former Dutch politician who was born in Somalia, Hirsi Ali is an author and currently a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

The UF crowd included women students wearing signs that read "I'm Muslim and I'm free." Hirsi Ali acknowledged the students at the start of the speech, saying they were a testament to America's freedom, and later issued them a challenge.

"Make use of that freedom to create awareness on the plight of the women that are suffering, and please let's change that," she said.

Hirsi Ali discussed a life story that included her father trying to force her into an arranged marriage with a distant relative. She gained political asylum in the Netherlands, renouncing Islam after Sept. 11 and becoming an atheist.

"I agreed with my conscience, but agreeing with my conscience had a consequence," she said.

She was later elected to the Dutch Parliament, before reaction to the film "Submission" sent her into hiding and controversy over her citizenship led her to leave the country. Van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic extremist who left a note threatening Hirsi Ali on his body.

Hirsi Ali has continued to criticize Islam since Van Gogh's death. In making her case, she cited incidents such as the recent murder of a Pakistani politician for opposing a blasphemy law and the mutilation of a woman in Afghanistan for leaving her husband. She rejected multiculturalism and moral relativism, disputing the premise that all cultures are equal.

"That attitude overlooks the freedoms and rights of the individuals in the culture," she said.

Reflecting concerns about Ali's security, bags of those entering the speech were searched and there was an increased police presence. But there were no problems or disruptions of the event, only the silent protest of the UF students and an informational table placed outside the event by the Islam on Campus student group.

Amara Fazal, an 18-year-old philosophy major who was among those wearing the signs, said she thought Hirsi Ali was blaming the religion for problems related more to the cultures of some countries where it was being practiced. She said the religion is progressing and violence done because of Islam is a perversion of the faith.

"A lot of what is said to be done in the name of Islam is not done in the name of Islam," she said. "It's an excuse."

While Hirsi Ali was largely critical of the religion, she expressed hope that individuals within the faith would lead to change.

"One day there will be a large enough number of Muslims that can change, reform their faith," she said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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