Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: She Should Be A Household Name for Atheists

Here in the States we atheists are used to fighting the transgressions of Christianity into public life, if only because it's the majority religion here. But we can't afford not to think globally, and the culture conflict which has replaced the Cold War on the world's center-stage is that of Christianity vs. Islam. Islam is no picnic either, and to be honest, if I had to pick one or the other, I might even go with old Jesu. His followers occasionally blow up a building in Oklahoma City in his name or shoot an abortion doctor, but in modern times, Islam is definitely outcompeting them in the violence department.

This is why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a brave woman. Somalian-born, she is a former Dutch legislator who now resides in the United States. She came to international prominence when she provided the voiceover and much of the script for a film by Theo van Gogh which details the Islamic practice of subjugating women. (And by the way, van Gogh's surname is not a coincidence) . Subsequently van Gogh was killed, with a note left on his body explicitly threatening Ali's life; her life remained in clear jeopardy while she remained in the Netherlands. Ali now lives in the United States, and some months ago, her life was again publicly threatened by a Muslim religious leader, before she gave a speech in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Being from Pennsylvania, I can tell you that there aren't too many places in the world more isolated from international intrigue than Johnstown. If she's in danger there, she's in danger everywhere.

You may be surprised at the news source I chose, but Ali is in a unique position to speak for atheism. Ali was raised strict Muslim, so when she condemns the religion, it's not with a subtext of "Christianity is better". She is a feminist at a conservative thinktank; an atheist that Republicans love. In the US, we have the bizarre situation of elected officials who don't understand the secular basis of our Constitution. In much of Europe, Ali encountered the even more bizarre situation of countries with nominal state religions (Christianity) becoming apologists for extremists who practiced another religion (Islam), lest they be labeled intolerant fascists.

Let's support her in the US and make her an atheist household name. She's doing great things for atheism in this country and abroad. To learn more about her (and particularly about her struggle as a woman escaping religious oppression) you should pick up her excellent book Infidel.

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