Critic of Islam to share story of her journey

Critic of Islam to share story of her journey

Brad Greenberg, Los Angeles Daily News

In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, Ayaan Hirsi Ali began studying her Muslim faith, digging deep into the Quran to understand why 19 zealots would turn airplanes into missiles.

Quickly convinced the Quran was diametrically opposed to peace, she renounced Islam and, with Theo van Gogh, co-produced a film criticizing the religion's treatment of women.

She expected "Submission" to incite debate, even anger. But then a Muslim radical plunged a knife into van Gogh's chest and killed him. Attached to the blade was a note quoting the Quran and citing the crimes Hirsi Ali had committed against Islam.

And there was another message: You're next.

She's lived under 24-hour security since. But she hasn't stopped speaking out.

In a memoir published this month titled "Infidel," she chronicles her journey from devout Muslim to passionate critic.

And tonight in Century City, she will share her story with about 200 Jews from the American Jewish Committee's young professionals group, Access.

"The Muslim who says Islam is peace finds very little support in the Quran and the Hadith (traditions related to sayings and actions of Muhammad)," she said in an interview Tuesday. "And the bin Ladens of this world and the people we have come to call extremists find a lot of support in the Quran."

Her perspective runs counter to the message being promoted by most Muslim Americans.

Maher Hathout, a senior adviser to the L.A.-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, said the Quran only allows Muslims to be violent when they are being attacked, forced to convert or exiled from their homes.

"To everyone else," he said, "you should treat them with love and kindness."

Hathout said Hirsi Ali's understanding of Islam has been shaped by "her own narrow, difficult experience" and that people would better learn about Islam from practicing Muslims.

Born in Somalia, Hirsi Ali grew up on the run, moving from there to Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia to Kenya as her father kept clear of the Somalian dictator he opposed.

She was not given the freedoms afforded her brother. As a young girl, her grandmother forced her to endure genital circumcision and, as a young adult, she was required to be home by 5 p.m.

At age 20, she fled to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage and be educated. She was elected to the Dutch parliament in January 2003 but resigned last May over a controversy regarding her receival of asylum.

She has since moved to Washington, D.C., to discuss the rift between Western values and Islamic attitudes abroad and to enjoy the freedom she didn't know in adolescence.

Daniel Inlender, chairman of the L.A. chapter of AJC Access, said the organization did not invite Hirsi Ali because of her criticism of Islam but because of the example she has set.

"She is courageous. She is honorable. She is righteous," Inlender said. "In every sense of the word, she really personifies leadership."


Date: 2/20/2007

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