The grandmother of Somalian Ayaan Hirsi Ali had her young granddaughter genitally mutilated at the age of 5. Her father, an intelligent dissident and outspoken critic of the backward tradition, was imprisoned during this time and her grandmother took charge. From that moment on, Ali knew there was something wrong with her culture’s view of women.
At the age of 8, Hirsi Ali moved to the Netherlands. She would grow to write prolifically about the abuse of women in Muslim societies. In 2004, with director Theo van Gogh, she made a movie, “Submission.” Hirsi Ali actually wrote the script and provided the voice-over for the movie, which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic cultures.
The movie featured women dressed in semi-transparent burqas with text written on their skin — passages from the Qur’an often used to justify the oppression of women. Muslim radical Mohammed Bouyeri assassinated van Gogh in November 2004, pinning a threat against Hirsi Ali to van Gogh’s body with a knife.
Undaunted, Hirsi Ali came to America to further her interest in preserving the rights of women in Muslim countries. At least she would have that freedom here, right?
In 2006, she penned “Infidel,” her autobiography. In it she provides greater detail to the experiences of oppressed Islamic women. For her contribution, Pittsburgh Islamic Imam Fouad El Bayly declared that Hirsi Ali deserved the death sentence and that she should be tried in an Islamic country. She bravely continued her campaign against the subjugation of women.
Earlier this year, Brandeis University announced it would bestow on Hirsi Ali an honorary degree. However, a professor who converted to Islam, Joseph Lumbard, lobbied heavily, and along with some backlash (mostly in the form of online petition) from students, the offer was rescinded. The reason? Hirsi Ali had dared to make statements such as, “Islam is the new fascism.”
It gets better. Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, attacked Thrin Short, a 16-year-old abortion protester who was peacefully holding a sign on campus. Miller-Young’s action and words were caught on camera. She was charged with misdemeanor counts of theft, battery and vandalism.
But — and this is the best part — she still has her job.
So, the message is clear: Religiously-based commentary is not welcome in the public sphere. Got it.
But wait. Something is amiss. What about when Richard Dawkins says, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”? Why does he continually get an audience with no reprisal?
And what about when Bill Maher calls God “a psychotic mass murderer”? Where is the outrage? Why does he still have his HBO show? And why aren’t the same people, who worship at the altar of tolerance, calling for Dawkins and Maher to apologize — if not run for their lives?
It seems the message is becoming even clearer: It’s not that religiously-based commentary is not welcome in the public sphere; it’s that criticizing Islam is intolerant, but insulting Christianity is sport.
And that’s what happens when the majority is silent.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.