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Keynote speaker opens BPC with discussion, controversy

Hirsi Ali spoke about her story and women's rights in the "House of Islam"
Apr 9, 2010
By Colleen Kiphart

On Thursday evening, best-selling author, activist, and former member of Dutch Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali opened the Baker Peace Conference (BPC) with a telling of her own story growing up as a Muslim woman in Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The BPC, whose theme this year is "Women's rights are human rights," invited Hirsi Ali* to speak to bring the OHIO community an often unheard-segment of the world population's story.

Hirsi Ali's story was first widely told in her best-selling and critically acclaimed autobiography, "Infidel." She has also written a collection of essays, "The Caged Virgin," and the screenplay for the film "Submission," a critical examination of the role of women in Islam.

Much of her speech, like her written work, centered on her journey away from her Muslim faith and family history, which she referred to as the "House of Islam." She also discussed her current position as an advocate for the human rights of Muslim women and men.

In an interview before her talk, Hirsi Ali described why she finds speaking to university audiences, and student in particular, so rewarding.

"Students now are not a homogenous group," Hirsi Ali said. "They are sitting in class next to students from Iran, Iraq, China and Indonesia. There are so many things that American students take for granted and assume that others do too."

She described situations where American students may have peers who have been the victim of a forced marriage. "The student sitting next to you could have opinions that would make your hair curl," Hirsi Ali said.

This awareness of injustice was one point she tried the most to convey in her message.

"Civil rights must move and be expanded to protecting, not just people who live in terror of their governments, but to people who live in terror of their families," she said.

During her talk, Hirsi Ali began by describing her perception of the world as a young woman. She said that they lived in the "House of Islam," and everything outside of Islam was the "House of War," or chaos and disorder. Later in 1992, after fleeing to the Netherlands to avoid an arranged marriage, she came to see the West as the "House of Liberty."

Further into her lecture, she spoke about how she felt governments should approach terrorism and radical Islam.  Hirsi Ali mentioned President Barack Obama's recent deletion of references to Islam and terrorism from national security policy. She asked, "How can you converse [with extremists] without mentioning Islam?"

Hirsi Ali's opinions and story were not without controversy, and many who lined up afterward to ask her questions were critical of her political and philosophical stances on issues.

Questions posed ranged to the role of the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank where Hirsi Ali is currently a resident scholar, in the decision to invade Iraq; to the role of gay men and women in Muslim families; to a discussion of a separation between culture and religion.

While many of the questions elicited applause, so did many of Ali's responses. The occasionally heated open debate illustrated one of the principles what Ali said she saw lacking in countries ruled by Sharia law, laws based on the Muslim faith.

In response to a question comparing the natural law that the Constitution is based on to Sharia law, Ali responded, "By proposing the question, you have answered it."


* Following this link takes you away from the Ohio University Web site.


Published: Apr 9, 2010 1:20 PM


Ayann Hirsi Ali speaks to the audience during her keynote address.


Ayann Hirsi Ali chats with graduate student Hala Ibrahim during a Baker Peace Conference welcome reception on Thursday

Photographer: Alex Snyder 

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