From the book “A CAGED VIRGIN” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
ALL BLACK AND ENLARGED WORDS ARE MINE - THIS IS AN OLD BOOK NOW, WHEN YOU CONSIDER HOW MANY BOOKS COME OFF THE PRESS EACH MONTH - Keith Hunt
A Brief Personal History of My Emancipation
At the time of this interview, I had been forced by death threats to leave the Netherlands to go into hiding. I expected that once I returned to the Netherlands all publicity would—at first—focus on me again and not on the debate. Right now the media are still lapping it up: a black woman who criticizes Islam. One day the magic surrounding me will disappear. At some point they will have had enough, and then it will be possible to think about the real issue again, about the fact that the failure of integration is to a considerable extent due to the hostility toward women in Islamic culture and religion.
I knew what I was letting myself in for when I took this position. The negative reactions did not surprise me. This is a topic that stirs up controversy. If I do go on—and I will—I will have to expect the difficult repercussions that will inevitably follow. I understand that rage. Any group on the brink of a transformation will experience that fury. My strategy is to keep pushing until the storm is over. One day I will be able to say the things I am saying now without inciting these violent emotions. Others have also begun to speak out and are fighting for the emancipation of dependent, semiliterate women from immigrant communities. The third feminist wave is on its way, and it is giving me goose bumps.
Emancipation is a struggle.
MOVING FROM LABOR PARTY TO LIBERAL PARTY IN HOLLAND
I chose that struggle and am now going to carry on fighting for it as a member of parliament for the Liberal Party. I decided to switch over to them because I was getting sick of the evasive behavior of the Labor party which has closed its eyes to the growing feelings of unease in society. Suppression of women does not seem to them to be an important theme, and they are not committed to admitting it occurs, addressing it, or correcting it.
I have not chosen to join the Liberal Party, not because I care less about social issues on which the Labor Party thinks it has a monopoly but because I have come to realize that social justice begins with the freedom and integrity of the individual. Everything in our society focuses on the individual citizen: you take your exams on your own, you fill in your own tax form, and in court you alone have to face your sentence. Personal responsibility always comes first. But what does the Labor Party do? It still treats immigrants as a group. You might ask yourself, why? The answer is, because this party is not in touch with reality.
Let me give an example.:
As an interpreter I was involved with immigrants who had committed social security fraud. In order to claim an allowance, both partners have to sign; the woman does this at her husband's command. He points to the dotted line and says "sign here." But she has no idea what she is signing for. In her home country she has never had to do anything like this.
Then the police come to the door. The man and woman are charged with social security fraud. It turns out that the husband had a job on the side. She, however, knew nothing about it: true, he leaves the house every morning and comes home late at night, but Muslim men rarely tell their wives how they spend the day. So why should she have noticed anything? It emerges that they have to pay back eighty thousand guilders, half each. In other words, the wife is made jointly responsible for the husband's misconduct. And this case is by no means unique; there are hundreds like it.
Try to convince the Labor Party that these women should be freed from their dependent position; you won't succeed. The party aims to keep Muslim women in this position because it thinks that it will help the women's sense of identity. "Those women," they say, "are happy in their own culture." The party overlooks the children, too. Until, that is, they turn into little "Moroccan bastards." Then there is the devil to pay.
In a Dutch newsmagazine, a general practitioner and well-known member of the Labor Party relates how a Muslim woman came to his surgery and said: "It is God's will that my husband has become so ill." The thought that your life lies in the hands of God may offer you comfort on your deathbed, but it also means that you will end up sooner on that deathbed. However, this doctor thinks it is a "nice conviction." As it happens, he does not believe in God himself, but it seems agreeable to him to be able to utter this kind of nonsense. What he is actually saying is: they have a right to their own backwardness.
The deciding factor for my changeover in October 2002 to the Liberal Party was the assurance by the party leader that I will be given the freedom to bring to the top of the political agenda the integration and emancipation of immigrant women.
I do not understand why my decision has generated such an emotional response. People use words like treason, as if I had joined a criminal organization. But after eight years of a coalition government composed of the Liberal and Labor parties, the differences between the two parties are really not that big. I can understand that people feel let down by me personally. However, the fact that Labor has done a lot for me does not mean I should remain loyal to the party when I can no longer identify with its viewpoints. Everyone suggests it was an impulsive decision, but I had already said back in August that I was not happy and wanted to leave.
Of course, I have to learn certain things. I understand that at times I must strike a compromise, that I need to become more strategic in my thinking and formulate my thoughts more accurately, but I have no intention of giving up. I can live with the price I have to pay for this. As long as I am protected, I have the mental energy to go on. I need to be careful, though, not to push for too much too fast. My impatience is my Achilles' heel: I want it all to happen here and now. I need to be told that tomorrow will still be good.
I know my father loves me, but I have made a choice that radically opposes everything he stands for. If he really said to the Dutch weekly what he is quoted as saying—that he never received any phone threats—it feels to me like a slap in the face. After each of my public appearances he received telephone calls from Somali Muslims who wanted to lodge a complaint. Initially he ignored these calls, but he did ask me whether the stories were true. I told him that I was making a stand for the rights of women in Islam. His reaction was: "Make a stand for what you feel is right, but make sure you do it in God's name." The fact that I have now publicly denounced God is a terrible disappointment to him, one he can barely accept. By smearing Islam, I have smeared his reputation and his honor. That is why he has turned away from me. I feel for him, but at the same time I am furious. At the end of the book that I am writing at the moment, I address an open letter to him in which I accuse him of offering his children conditional love only. Every time he has had to make a choice between the community and his children, he has chosen the former. This hurts.
I am a real daddy's girl. During the short periods he spent with our family, he was wonderfully kind to me and praised me to the skies. He also organized some things for which I feel indebted to him to this day. For example, when we were living in Ethiopia my mother did not want my sister or me to attend school. We were going to be married off within a few years anyway, so what good would all that knowledge be to us? We were better off learning to do the housework. But my father insisted that we go to school. He said he would curse my mother forever if she would not let us. He also declared himself dead set against our circumcision. What he doesn't know is that my grandmother secretly arranged to have it done behind his back.
My brother, my sister, and I did tackle him about never spending any time with us. He had brought us into the world but took no responsibility for it. We had nothing against his political activities, felt quite proud even, but we also wanted a father. He thought our criticisms were unworthy of us. Trivial moaning. We should see that he had a vocation and therefore make sacrifices with our heads up. God had bestowed the honor of this position upon him.
FROM MY BIRTH
When I was born my father was in prison. I was six years old when I first saw him. Even though our father was absent for long periods, as children we sensed the tension surrounding his political activities. I always refer to the years in Somalia as the whispering years. Hush, hush, nobody can be trusted. I can remember hearing the pounding on the door, my grandmother opening it and being tossed to the floor, the verbal abuse of men ransacking our house. A child cannot understand these things.
On my sixth birthday we followed my father—who had by then fled the country—to Saudi Arabia. None of us felt happy there, with the exception of my mother, who flourished in a country with such a strict religious climate. But she also compared the local inhabitants to goats and sheep because she found them so stupid. We had to wear a green, long-sleeved dress to school and tightly wrap a scarf around our heads. The heat gave us blisters on our backs. We were not allowed to play outside. After a year we moved to Ethiopia, where a large part of the Somali opposition lived, and then, after eighteen months, to Kenya.
My father has five daughters and a son, by four different wives. My mother was his second wife. He met her when his first wife, Maryan, was in America. She had been sent there by him to study, but she didn't do very well. My father wanted her to stay away until she managed to get her diplomas. Meanwhile, at home, he had become one of the organizing forces behind the campaign for literacy. He was a teacher himself and my mother was his pupil. He thought she was smart and ambitious, and married her. Within a short period they had three children, and then one day Maryan turned up at the door, back from America. She knew nothing about his second marriage and was furious. She demanded that he make a choice. My father chose my mother and divorced Maryan.
In 1980 he left for Ethiopia. After a year he came back to visit us. My mother said, "If you leave again now, I don’t want you to come back ever again, and I will no longer be your wife." He went away and returned after ten years. My mother refused to greet him and has stuck to this to the present day. Later he married an Ethiopian woman, and then someone from Somalia—I have no idea where they are now. Eventually he remarried Maryan, his first wife, with whom he lives in London.
Besides an older brother, I had a sister, Haweya, who was two years younger than I and for whom I felt strong admiration. Haweya was rebellious. She did what she wanted, and she didn't care if she received a beating for it. I was more timid and docile, tending to accept things as they were. But she never did. As a teenager Haweya wanted to wear short skirts, something that was considered thoroughly indecent. My mother ripped them up, but each time she did, my sister just bought herself a new one. During her second year in high school she quit. Everyone was furious, but she couldn't have cared less. She successfully completed a secretarial course and found a job at the United Nations. My mother forbade her to work, but my sister defied her, despite verbal and physical abuse.
Haweya was a strong woman and commanded admiration and respect everywhere except at home. When her turn came to be married off, she followed me to the Netherlands. She arrived in January 1994, and after a year and a half her Dutch was good enough to enroll at university. But she started to become tearful and her behavior became eccentric. She struggled in the company of others but could not manage being on her own either. She watched television for hours on end, regardless of what was on. She would lie in bed for days and didn't eat. After a time she revealed that she was unhappy because she had neglected her faith. She began to wear a headscarf and tried to pray. Some days she could not manage it and that increased her feelings of guilt, because for every prayer you miss, there is a punishment. She also kept saying, I am suffering so much, but nobody understands me. And she was ashamed of the way she had behaved toward my mother in the past and deeply regretted all those arguments.
Then one day Haweya had a mental breakdown and had to go into hospital. She was treated with medication to which she responded well, though she did suffer some side effects: restlessness, pain, stiff muscles, strange twitches. I saw my sister, that beautiful, strong woman, cracking up before my eyes.
In July 1997 Haweya returned to Kenya. Instead of medication she received visits from mullahs who had been summoned to drive out her psychoses. They commanded her to read the Koran so that she would calm down. And she was dragged to an exorcist because some people thought that my stepmother had bewitched her. My sister said to the exorcist, If you are capable of releasing such extraordinary powers; you should use them to heal your rotten teeth. In her madness she never lost her wit. Occasionally they tied her up or beat her in order to calm her down, but of course that solved nothing. The manic attacks just grew more uncontrollable. She suffered paranoia and stopped eating. On January 8, 1998, she died.
Haweya's death was the hardest moment of my life. When my father gave me the news over the telephone, I burst into tears, at which he said, "Why are you so upset? You know we all return to God." I jumped on the first plane to Nairobi but arrived too late for the funeral. Presumably she died from exhaustion, but I will never be sure because no autopsy was performed. In our culture it is taboo to ask questions about the cause of death. Every time I brought up the subject, I was dismissed as a tiresome child who keeps asking the same old question. The response was invariably: God gives and takes life away.
IT’S BOYS THAT MATTER
My sister and I were still very young when we began to notice that we were always told to respect our brother. He was only ten months older than I, but we realized that only boys count. A Muslim woman's status depends on the number of sons she has. When people asked my grandmother how many children she had, she would answer: "One." She had nine daughters and a son. She was the same with regard to our family, said we had only one child. "What about us?" Haweya and I would ask. "You are going to bear sons for us," she replied. It drove me to desperation. What was I to do with my life on earth? Bear sons! Become a production plant for sons. I was nine years old at the time.
To maximize their potential as producers of sons, girls are taught from early on always to conform—to God, to their father and brothers, to the family, to the clan. The better a woman seems at this, the more virtuous she is thought to be. You should always be patient, even when your husband demands the most dreadful things of you. You will be rewarded for this in the hereafter. But the reward itself is small. Women can look forward to dates and grapes in paradise. That is all.
When we were living in Saudi Arabia, my brother was always allowed to go everywhere with my father. We had to stay at home. But my sister and I were inquisitive children. We wanted to come, too, thought it was unfair. That was a word that touched a chord in my father. We knew this. And he immediately wanted to set the record straight. “Allah has said: 'I have given woman an honorable position. I have placed paradise underneath her feet.'" We looked down at my mother's feet, and then at my father's, and burst out laughing. As always, his were covered by expensive leather shoes from Italy, while my mother's were bare, the skin badly cracked and peeling from walking on cheap sandals. My father laughed with us, but my mother grew angry, hit us, and sent us out of the room. She was terrified of blasphemy.
In Kenya I went from my primary school to the Muslim Girls Secondary School.
The school was attended by girls from Kenya but also from Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and India. There were some very bright girls there, who were good at everything, academic subjects as well as sport. In the mornings our names were called out. You had to say "Present." But after a certain age there seemed to be a growing number of absent girls. No one knew where they had gone. Later we heard that they had been married off. Some I met again after a year or two. There was nothing left of them. All those girls had become production plants for sons; plump, pregnant, or already holding a child in one arm. The fighting spirit, the light in their eyes, the jittery energy had all vanished. Among these girls, suicide and depression were common. In a way I was lucky that my father was not living with us at the time. Otherwise I would probably also have been contracted to marry someone when I was sixteen, and at that age you cannot run away. Where could I have fled?
From the mid-1980s Islam was becoming more prominent in Kenya. Like many other adolescents I was looking for something, and I was strongly impressed by our Islam teacher. She looked striking, with a pale, heart-shaped face that formed a mysterious contrast with her black headscarf and long black dress. She could talk passionately about the love of God and our duties to Him. It was through her teaching that I first felt the need to become a martyr. It would bring me closer to God. Submission to Allah's will—that was what it was about. We repeated this sentence over and over, like a mantra: "We subject ourselves to God's will." I spontaneously began to wear a veil and black garments over my school uniform. My mother was thrilled, my sister less so.
Then I got a boyfriend. That was forbidden. We kissed. That was worse than forbidden. On top of everything he was a very religious boyfriend, strict when it came to doctrines regarding the relations between men and women. But in actual life he did not observe the rules. At that moment I experienced my first strong doubts. Because I lied and he lied. The more religious I became, the more I found myself lying and deceiving. That seemed wrong.
Later on I stayed in a refugee camp on the border between Somalia and Kenya. I saw how women who had been raped during the war were abandoned. And I asked myself, If God exists, why does He allow this? It was forbidden to think such thoughts, let alone speak them, but my belief was crumbling. Nonetheless I continued to call myself a Muslim.
September 11 was a decisive turning point, but it was not until six months later, after I had read The Atheist Manifesto by Herman Philipse, that I dared to admit to others that I no longer believed. I had been given the book in 1998 by my boyfriend Marco but didn't want to read it at the time. I thought: an atheist manifesto is a declaration of the devil. I could feel an inner resistance. But recently I felt ready. The time had come. I saw that God was an inversion and that subjection to His will meant nothing more than subjecting yourself to the willpower of the strongest.
I have nothing against religion as a source of comfort. Rituals and prayers can provide support, and I am not asking anyone to give those up. But I do reject religion as a moral gauge, a guideline for life. And this applies above all to Islam, which is an all-pervasive religion, dominating every step of your life.
AYAAN HAS MOVED FROM ONE FALSE RELIGION TO ANOTHER FALSE RELIGION, OF DENYING GOD EXISTS AND DOES HAVE A GUIDE BOOK TO LIVE BY, WHICH IS FAR FAR REMOVED FROM THE ISLAM RELIGION - Keith Hunt
People blame me for not drawing a distinction between religion and culture. Female circumcision, they say, has nothing to do with Islam, because this cruel ritual does not take place in all Islamic societies. But Islam demands that you enter marriage as a virgin. The virginity dogma is safeguarded by locking girls up in their homes and sewing their outer labia together. Female circumcision serves two purposes: the clitoris is removed in order to reduce the woman's sexuality, and the labia are sewn up in order to guarantee her virginity. Circumcision dates back to pre-Islamic times, when the ritual was observed among certain animist tribes. Clans in Kenya first circumcised their women out of a fear that the clitoris would grow too large during child delivery and smother the baby. But these existing local practices were spread by Islam. They became more important and were sanctified. In countries such as Sudan, Egypt, and Somalia, where Islam is a big influence, the emphasis on virginity is very strong.
People also say that my negative image of Islam is the product of personal trauma. I am not saying that I had a rosy childhood, but I managed to get through it. It would be selfish to keep my experiences and insights to myself. It wouldn't be feasible. Young Muslim girls in the Netherlands who still have the light in their eyes do not have to go through what I did. We must face the facts and offer to immigrants what they are denied in their own culture: individual dignity. The big obstacle to the integration of immigrants is undeniably Islam.
THOUGH CHRISTIANITY TEACHES THAT SEXUAL INTERCOURSE IS FOR MARRIAGE ONLY, IT GOES NO FURTHER WITH ANY PHYSICAL CUTTING OR STITCHING OF A GIRL’S VIGINA….THAT KIND OF STUFF IS, FOR CHRISTIANS, DEMONIC - Keith Hunt
Marco—my former boyfriend who gave me The Atheist Manifesto—lived in the same students' house as I did. We circled around each other for two months and then we fell in love. I didn't mention it to my parents. But I told my brother, who demanded that I break off the relationship immediately. I ignored him. Marco and I lived together for five years. Incidentally, it was a big step for me to move in with someone else. That went right into the teeth of what is conventionally expected in our culture: you remain a virgin until you are married off. In the end it did not work out because we are both strong-willed and neither of us is inclined to give in. That always led to arguments. Moreover, I am rather scattered, while he is meticulous and strict. That also gave rise to problems. We are still very fond of each other; it just became impossible to go on. Around us we saw other relationships trying to survive despite tremendous pressure, with all its consequences. We did not want that.
CHRISTIANITY WOULD BE, IS, AGAINST THE MODERN TRENT TO “SHACK UP” AS IT IS CALLED IN PLAIN LANGUAGE; CHRISTIANITY DOES NOT TEACH “ARRANGED MARRIAGES” AS PRACTICED IN ISLAM - Keith Hunt
The fact that I did not want to be married—not to a distant cousin in Canada nor to anyone else—could not be discussed. My father said: "Child, just trust me to know what is best for you." But I did not trust him, and I fled to the Netherlands.
I wrote him what I think was a loving but unambiguous letter, in which I begged him to let me have my freedom. He sent it back to me. In the margin he had written in red ink that he regarded this as an act of treason, that he never wanted to see me again, and that I was no longer to call myself his child. We did not speak for six years.
One evening in 1997 the phone rang. Marco answered, listened, and handed me the receiver. "I think it's your father," he said. I took the receiver and heard "Abbe," my child.
He had forgiven me and wanted to let me know he was proud of me because I was taking good care of my sister.
I wept and wept. It was one of the most beautiful days in my life. He had taken me back as his daughter.
ALL OF THIS “LIFE AS A MUSLIM” GIVES ME A GNAWING UPSET IN MY STOMACH. IT MAKES ME SICK, DISGUSTED, AND ANGRY AT SATAN AND HIS DEMONIC FORCES. WHILE ALL RELIGIONS CONTAIN SOME TRUTH, THE OVERALL TEACHINGS OF ISLAM ARE DECEPTIVE FALSEHOOD AND REPUGNANT IN MIND-SET, AND FAR FROM THE WAY THE TRUE GOD IN HEAVEN WOULD HAVE HIS CHILDREN LIVE.
PUTTING ASIDE THE HORRIBLE PRACTICE OF FEMALE CIRCUMCISION, THE ISLAMIC GIRL WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO ATTEND PUBLIC SWIMMING POOLS, TAKE DANCE LESSONS OF VARIOUS KINDS, PLAY SPORTS OR ATHLETIC GAMES WHERE IN ISLAM IT WOULD BE TAUGHT TOO MUCH LEG OR ARM IS SHOWN. IN FACT WE HAVE SEEN MOST OF THE SECULAR WORLD IS OFF LIMITS FOR ISLAM FEMALES; THEY ARE TO BE MAINLY CAGED UP IN THE HOME AS MOTHERS AND WIVES; GOING OUT THEY ARE TO COVER THEMSELVES FROM HEAD TO TOE.
THOSE WHO DO NOT LIVE THIS WAY, ARE NOT TRUE MUSLIMS, THEY HAVE MADE UP THEIR OWN RELIGION AND CALL IT “ISLAM” - IT IS NOT THE ISLAM OF THE KORAN OR THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD.
MAYBE FROM THESE “PRETEND” ISLAM PEOPLE WILL COME A REFORMATION IN TIME, THAT WILL BRING PEOPLE LIKE AYAAN HIRSI ALI TEARS OF JOY.
AS THEY SAY, TIME WILL TELL.