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Sunday 25 November 2007

Death-threat woman has advice for Ireland

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islam who now lives in the US under heavy security, tells Ruth Dudley Edwards the message Muslim immigrants need to hear

'The mountain has come to Mohammad,' I said last Thursday morning (with dubious taste and rather vaingloriously, now I come to think of it), as I opened my front door to my great heroine, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and assorted bodyguards.

Only 38 years old, Ayaan's dedication to exposing the horrors experienced by women under reactionary Islam has earned her innumerable death threats. Brought up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, she had an innate sense that 'the soul cannot be coerced', which caused her to triumph over the tribal and religious values that forced her to endure genital mutilation, vicious beatings and forced marriage but could not prevent her escaping to the physical and intellectual freedom of the West.

She is an icon for those of us who believe one should question sceptically the beliefs and practices of one's own tribe.

Infidel, Ayaan's autobiography, could have been a misery memoir, but contains not an ounce of self-pity: it is the shocking but uplifting story of a woman of courage and intellectual curiosity who struggled through forests of ignorance, oppression, poverty and brutality until she reached a clearing illuminated by the clarity of the Enlightenment.

Ayaan became famous in Holland when her forthright attacks on misguided liberals for turning a blind eye to the persecution of Muslim women on Dutch soil won her a parliamentary seat, and known worldwide when Theo Van Gogh, who had directed Submission -- a film about the subjugation of women in the name of Allah, for which she had written the screenplay -- was murdered in the middle of Amsterdam. Having cut Van Gogh's throat, his murderer pinned to his chest a threat to Ayaan. She has been under heavy security ever since and at present lives in the US.

Ayaan was visiting me because our mutual friend, Douglas Murray -- who runs the Centre for Social Cohesion, which was organising her trip to London -- had taken pity on me. Knowing how intensely I'd been looking forward to meeting her and hearing her in debate, when he heard that I was housebound after breaking my shoulder in a mundane domestic accident, he decided to bring her to me on her way from Heathrow. So now you know why I'm photographed below in my woolly pyjamas, dressing gown and sling.

Ruth and AH Ali
Ayaan and Ruth

Ayaan arrived in jeans. When she adopted European dress, she was accused of succumbing to Western cultural imperialism: her answer was that wearing the veil and headscarf and shapeless robes was succumbing to Arab cultural imperialism. I couldn't offer her a feast, but she had time for a shower and a glass of champagne, for Ayaan can drink alcohol now that -- after years of philosophical and spiritual struggle -- she has abandoned Islam for atheism.

I heard from various friends of her progress through the next 48 hours. Probably the highlight was a riveting debate with Ed Husain, author of The Islamist, an illuminating account of how this young British Muslim was radicalised, of how he broke free of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organisation that believes in restoring the Islamic caliphate and aims to have us all living under Sharia -- the law laid down in the 7th Century for the control of Arab nomads.

Husain is a highly articulate and devout liberal Muslim who wants the peace-and-compassion messages within Islam to triumph over the totalitarian, misogynistic and violent. Ayaan, although not an enemy of religion, regards Islam as the problem rather than the solution. But where they agree, they share common ground with our own Dr Shaheed Satardien, who is a leader in a burgeoning European grouping of Muslim clerics and thinkers who want their co-religionists to be good and loyal citizens rather than fifth columnists and who honour the fine Western values Islamists denigrate.

To Ayaan, Holland was a paradise, and she was horrified to see immigrants who had fled their failed Islamic states comparing Holland to its disadvantage with the home they didn't want to go back to. To Shaheed Satardien, Ireland was a refuge from those in South Africa who would murder him because his brand of Islam was enlightened. Both those grateful refugees want to help their adopted countries.

Ed Husain -- who came to his senses as he plotted the destruction of the country in which he'd been born and brought up -- is similarly evangelical.

The three may differ in their attitudes to Islam, but they all unite in their belief that Muslims must stand up against their lunatic fringe and the West must assert itself and fight the forces of reaction that see reason, learning and liberty as evil.

Any advice about how the Irish should deal with Islam, I asked. We didn't have much time, but here are a few of Ayaan's comments.

First, most of the most miserable countries in the world are Muslim and therefore it is Muslims who most want to leave their homes and go to rich countries.

So face the fact that there will be millions of Muslims who would like to move to Ireland.

Second, expect the numbers to grow quickly through birth as well as immigration.

Third, make their obligations very clear to immigrants. Muslims are imbued with the belief that religion and politics are intertwined in the manner laid down in the Koran. Make it clear that in Ireland church and State are separate and democracy is non-negotiable: if immigrants don't like that, they should find somewhere else to live.

Fourth, Islamic schools stifle critical thought and creativity, encourage gender segregation and are opposed to liberal values. Worse, if they teach the Koran as the unquestioned authority, they are teaching a political philosophy. Would you tolerate schools attached to political parties, she asked? Why then tolerate and even fund schools that teach the politics of Islam?

Fifth, she said, get over white guilt, ignore those who play the race card, and rejoice in such Western values as freedom of speech and personal liberty.

Sixth, the argument about multiculturalism is over. It's been a disaster. Get those immigrants integrating.

Seventh, and most important, encourage relentless, honest debate among and with Muslims. Get stuck into the theological arguments.

And then her minders took her away.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards