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Australian-Muslim women react to Ayan Hirsi Ali

Controversial author and critic of Islam, Ayan Hirsi Ali, has made headlines again this month when she cancelled her Australian scheduled speaking tour. On the day of a planned television appearance, Hirsi Ali announced she had cancelled her Australian tour due to security and organisational concerns. In light of the cancellation controversy, several high profile Australian Muslim women launched a video slamming the former Muslim, for her ‘dangerous rhetoric and subjugation of Muslim women’.

A right of reply

A group of diverse Muslim women in the video appeared reading a joint statement criticising Hirsi Ali for her language and her accusations against Islam and Muslim women.

“You’ve described Muslim women as being irrational, docile, having ‘no minds of our own’. You’ve called us slaves. How can you claim to stand for our liberation when you simply repeat the language of our oppressors? This is not the language of solidarity or understanding or freedom, this is the language of patriarchy and misogyny, this is the language of white supremacy.”

Hana Assafiri, one of the producers of the video and initiators of a petition against Hirsi Ali, who also features in the video, told The Point Magazine the initiative was a right of reply for Muslim women, directed at someone who was trying to remove their agency.

Assafiri said, “Ayan appeals to what we want to believe so easily about Muslim women, the ‘damsel in distress’ that needs to be rescued by the middle class white man and that our religion is the worst. In this video we are saying, that is not who we are and we refuse to be defined by her.”

“Ayan appeals to what we want to believe so easily about Muslim women, the ‘damsel in distress’ that needs to be rescued by the middle class white man and that our religion is the worst. In this video we are saying, that is not who we are and we refuse to be defined by her.”

– Hana Assafiri

Assafiri said ordinarily critics like Hirsi Ali would have been ignored by sections of the Muslim community, but the current global political and social climate for Muslims required a strong response to Hirsi Ali.

“On the ground, we deal with lives that are impacted by such rhetoric, there’s an environment that is becoming more and more futile for Muslim women. This is also coming off the back of Pauline Hanson calling ‘Muslims a disease.’ This language has become the norm in mainstream society but it’s a vivid reality for Muslim women and it’s impacting how they interpret and define themselves. We are afforded a platform and we will use it to contest such views.”

However, some Muslim women didn’t sign the petition, arguing they would rather hold Hirsi Ali accountable for her views and debate with her.

Opportunity to challenge 

Ruby Hamad, a columnist from Fairfax who identifies as being Muslim, said she didn’t sign the petition against Hirsi Ali.

“I think Hirsi Ali's views need to be challenged. I think shutting her down will only empower the racists and Islamophobes. That does not mean we have to accept her views as legitimate. Comments like "Islam is a nihilistic cult of death" are very reductive, damaging, and only foster more hatred and division. They also erase the complexity and diversity that exists in Islam.”

Hamad said debating Hirsi Ali, or other individuals who hold such views, must go beyond simply defending Islam.

“I think arguing from theology alone is a losing battle. Islamophobia is not just a fear of Muslims. It is a form of Orientalism. And Orientalism is not about Islamic theology - it's about a way of imagining the Muslim world as irrational, animalistic, and singularly violent. Hirsi Ali feeds into that, and the way to counteract it is by focussing on very modern political problems, not on defending scripture written more than 1000 years ago.” 

Ayan Hirsi Ali

Freedom of speech or gagging debate? 

Commentators criticised the video and petition against Hirsi Ali, accusing Muslim women of trying to stifle legitimate debate and critique of Islam.

One Facebook user wrote, “I am utterly appalled that a petition has been put forward to try and stop Ayan Hirsi Ali from speaking. At least the petition does something useful, name those who openly oppose free speech. Shame on them.”

Assafiri said there was a double standard when affording freedom of speech to Australians.

“Why is it when Ayan speaks that’s free speech but when we speak you don’t like what we have to say and we’re being accused of shutting down free speech… the irony of it all is just… ridiculous.”

Assafiri said she had extended an invitation to Hirsi Ali only to be declined.

“I was in contact with Think Inc, the organisation responsible for her Australian tour and we offered her genuine engagement and opportunity to debate with Australian Muslim women. We extended an unprecedented proposition. They requested heavy security and for it to be filmed and possibly televised, they even chose where the meeting would happen and we agreed to it all. However, they declined the offer in the end.”

The Point

Several high profile Australian Muslim women launched a video slamming the controversial author and critic of Islam, Ayan Hirsi Ali.

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