Prominent Muslim activists and free speech advocates have spoken out ahead of the visit to Australia by anti-Islam campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
The Somali-born, Dutch-American is well-known for her strong views on the Islamic faith, and says she herself has been subjected to some of its practices.
She will be holding a series of talks across Australia and New Zealand about her experiences and opinions.
A petition expressing the “disappointment” of many of Australia’s Muslim women has been set up on change长沙楼凤,, with many prominent community members among the signatories.
The appeal says it rejects Ms Hirsi Ali’s “hate-mongering and bigotry”, and accuses her “divisive rhetoric” of serving to “increase hostility and hatred towards Muslims”.
President of the Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia, Zubeda Raihman, said she too thinks that Ms Hirsi Ali exacerbates a negative image of Islam.
“The issues she’s trying to raise are all cultural issues, it’s not the principles of the teachings of the holy Quran,” she said.
“If she’s making comments which have cultural bearings then she should say so. Like for example, female genital mutilation, saying that it is an Islamic practice when it is definitely not.”
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Tasneem Chopra, chair of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, says she questions why Ms Hirsi Ali is being held up as a spokesperson for the Muslim community.
“I know, as an Australian Muslim woman who’s lived here for like decades, that we actually have a lot of talent and acumen within our community right now, who don’t get a voice,” she said.
“It’s problematic when somebody identifies as no longer a Muslim, to then speak on behalf of Muslim women.
On their website, Think Inc., the organisation bringing Ms Hirsi Ali to Australia, invites people to “step inside the controversy” during her upcoming tour.
Think Inc.’s founder, Suzi Jamil, said the idea is to bring guests “that have ideas that change and challenge the way we think.”
“The topic of Islam and the discussion points that Ayaan focuses on are really important ones we believe that we should be able to talk about freely and openly in our society,” she said.
“You see terrorist attacks happen and yet you have a conversation that is either ambushed by the far right or by the far left. We’re about creating a centrist debate and creating a platform for that, and we hope that Ayaan is a spokesperson in that area that can come and advise us, tell us about her story.”
Issues that need to be discussed
President of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Dr Meredith Doig, acknowledges that these are difficult issues to talk about, and says this is precisely the reason why Ms Hirsi Ali is so controversial.
“These are issues that need to be discussed, there’s no point in trying to stop discussion about the role of Islam in Western society, and she is a person who has brought these issues to a head using the pen, not the sword,” she said.
“If people disagree with her analysis and her ideas, then also challenge her, challenge her ideas, but don’t try to de-platform her, don’t try to prevent her from speaking at all.”
The society’s President Emeritus, Ian Robinson, has started his own petition on change长沙楼凤,, calling for Ayaan Hirsi Ali to be allowed to speak on Islam during her Australian tour.
The page asks: “What is it that none of them want you to hear?”
Both Dr Doig and Ms Jamil single out Ms Hirsi Ali’s personal experiences with Islam as giving her a degree of authority.
“She’s not saying it out of nowhere, she was born into a Muslim family, and she’s talking about her experience, so I’m not sure why they’re trying to suppress that,” Ms Jamil said.
The Think Inc. founder says she doesn’t understand the level of opposition to her visit, as Ms Hirsi Ali has been to Australia previously.
She laments what could potentially be a missed opportunity.
“It is a shame that there are petitions against Ayaan, and it is a shame that these people that are calling the venues in protest, rather than coming to us and having a conversation and us being able to invite them to the event and listening to what Ayaan has to say, they stand against her without really listening,” she said.
Ms Raihman said Ms Hirsi Ali’s impact is being overestimated.
“Nobody listens to her, nobody cares what she has to say, she can say whatever she wants, she can scream out from the rooftops, we don’t care because that’s not the truth,” she said.
“The truth always comes out.”
But Ms Chopra warns that it’s not Ms Hirsi Ali herself who’s dangerous, but those who subscribe to her views.
She says the activist has made the purpose of her trip to Australia clear.
“An invitation was made to Ayaan to actually engage with a number of Australian Muslim women so they could have a conversation about their experience of Islam and being Muslims in the West, and she refused that invitation,” she said.
“So she wasn’t interested in talking to, but rather, speaking at. I think that is a really critical sign of what her intentions are.”
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