Remarks by Ayaan Hirsi Ali



at the

Independent Women’s Forum

2014 Barbara K. Olsen Women of Valor Dinner


November 19, 2014


It is a hard fight. It’s extremely difficult, day after day, when you face people and say ‘if Sharia law is taken to its logic this is what things are going to look like’ and you come across people who say ‘you got it all wrong.’

I had a Q&A in a setting like this one with the Vice President of our country he said ‘ISIS had nothing to do with Islam.’ I said ‘I beg to differ.’ He said ‘let me tell you one or two things about Islam.’ I politely left the conversation at that. I wasn’t used to arguing with Vice Presidents.

I want to express my gratitude to the Independent Women’s Forum. Sabrina [Schaeffer, executive director of Independent Women’s Forum], I absolutely love the [Independent Women’s Forum’s] subtitle ‘All Issues Are Women’s Issues.’ That is true.

I come from a culture and background and I spent my youth in an environment where everything and absolutely everything reminded me of being a woman, being female, and being inferior.

And I didn’t realize until I came to the West that we actually are first and foremost not collectives. We are individuals. We are individual girls with our different characters, with our likes and dislikes.  And before you assume the collective, assume the individual. That is the greatest thing about the idea of America.

Next week is Thanksgiving and I have to think about my nearly 3 year old and what I am going to tell him that I am thankful for. First and foremost, I am thankful for the fact that as an adult I had the opportunity to get initiated into a society that is based on respecting and protecting the highest of individuals.

Individuals like Congresswoman Blackburn. Thank you for your kind words. Likewise, I admire you for the fact that you wake up every morning to remind Americans that first and foremost they are individuals before they are girls, before they are boys, before we are anything else we are individual human beings.

This might make you laugh, but a few years ago – before I had a husband and before I was pregnant – I was imagining a family and I wrote publically an open letter to my unborn daughter. Obviously the universe got right back to me and gave me a little boy.

I look at this little thing and I think he is so vulnerable. I could brainwash him into anything. I have the power now to make him into a misogynist or make him into this gentleman who loves women and fights for the heights of women. That is the power we have as individual women.

Thank you Congresswoman Blackburn for underscoring that. Thank you IWF for recognizing that. Thank you for honoring that. It should not take courage, it should not take valor, in the United States it is a given.

Sabrina [Schaeffer, executive director of Independent Women’s Forum] made a comment this night. She said women in America are not busy fighting, playing the victim, or fighting imaginary enemies, they are living lives of choice. Now, I just want you to take a minute to think about that. I thought that was so profound. Then think back, decades ago, maybe a century ago, when the idea that men and women had to be equal before the law was controversial and profound and new in America and Western societies. 

When I came in 1992 to the Netherlands that’s what I saw in practice. I saw men and women who took that idea for granted. I did not see perfect societies. I saw societies that honored that basic right and aspired to keep honoring it and shining it in laws, in textbook curriculums in schools, and in the media. And if you reflect on the works that feminists did back then, if you reflect on that work, there was a time when they thought it was unimaginable to have what we have now.

There is only one thing that I am going to disagree with that was said tonight – but you are giving me an award of courage so I will happily disagree – and that is to take feminism and throw it out.

I want you to remember once upon a time feminists fought for the access, the basic right and access of girls to education.

I remember my father and mother having a fight about my sister and I – I think I was 11 years old, not yet 12 – my mother, a woman, was arguing with my father ‘if you keep them in school they are going to be rebellious they are going to stand up to you and bring shame upon us.’ My father made use of all of the sexist privileges of our culture and religion and said to her ‘if you take my girls out of school I am going to curse you and you are going to burn in hell.’ It is language now that if taken out of context would make you side with my mother, but it’s my father’s adamant position that has brought me to where I am today.

That’s what feminist used to fight for, the access for girls to education. They used to fight for the recommendation of girls as fellow human beings and recommendation of their personal liberty.

I come from a place where I wasn’t allowed to wear whatever I wanted. I could not leave the house without asking permission from a male guardian, often without the company of a male. If something wrong was to happen to me – and where I come from that happens all the time, you were groped, you were harassed, you were raped – you had no recourse because you weren’t supposed to be where you were. You were married off as a child. And you had to obey the person you were married to – it was just your luck.

Feminists in this country and in the West fought against that and won the battle. It’s what we do with the victory. What we are now doing with that victory – and I agree with you if you condemn that – I condemn whole heartedly for the trivial bullshit it is – to go after a man who makes a scientific breakthrough and all that we organized women do is to fret about his shirt. We must reclaim and retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women.

If you want to make an accusation against the left liberals that will stick it is their power to trivialize what it is that women want and need. As an individual I am in a place, and in a country, and in an environment where I refuse for someone else to speak for me or to victimize me. And that is what we need to reclaim.

Lets not throw away feminism. It’s like throwing away the Civil Rights movement and its history. It’s like throwing away the history of the Apartheid movement, or the anti-slavery movement. Feminism is not the monster.  Some women are. We can reclaim it. We have to make it serious and you’re on the right path by standing up and giving them opposition.

I am a feminist. I am a grateful and vicious feminist. I’ll tell you what we need to fight against – the real war on women.

The last 13 years it took me so much trouble – in my fourth language, and sometimes in my fifth or six languages, to explain why – what Brandeis has condemned me for – there is a link between the religion of Islam, which I worked and believed hard into, and how some of our rights as Muslim women, or all of our rights as Muslim women, are taken away. In particular, Islamic extremist movements – and I argued that Islamic extremist movements were fighting for idea, it was an idea and it’s a powerful idea. I think of it as bad, but they think of it as good. I understand that ideas move people. Ideas are powerful. Ideas shape the world and change the world – if you only have fellowship that is determined enough and that has the resources.

Islamic extremists have shocked us in one way in the 21-century that no other ideology has done. That is to say that they love death more than they love life. That makes deterrence extremely difficult. They go about saying lets strike terror into the hearts of those who do not agree with us.  And those who do not agree with them are not necessarily non-Muslim or heretics of Muslim like myself. They often are Muslim who just seem to follow or think that their conscience are more important than the message of the Islamic.

And over and over again if you read – go back a hundred years in time, go back a thousand years in time – if you read about the idea and inform yourself about that idea, it has a logical consequence. That consequence you see today in parts of Iraq and Syria. You see it in what Boko Haram is doing. You’ve seen it with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Everywhere where that idea is implemented it has a sudden pattern. There is a love for death and mayhem.

And more, there is that deep hatred for girls and women. For denying us access to education, denying us our personal liberties. You all know and have celebrated a Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai; imagine a grown man walking onto a school bus and shooting a little girl. And here is what is more shocking, after that incident, our newspapers were reporting about how horrified we were. There were very few reports on how that man was celebrating. So much so that he wrote a letter that was published in the New York Times defending his idea, his vision for society and humanity.

An idea that I think is evil. That he thinks is good. But he is fighting for it with everything he has in him. And I intend to do the very same. And I intend to talk to all Americans and all Westerners who have what we have and are grateful for what we have and to really get serious and to standup to these people. And I’m not talking to only military means; I know that we are stronger than them. Not only economically, as I know that we are stronger than them. But the idea that we have to defend first and foremost is to celebrate life robustly, loudly, and self-confidently. And as girls and women across the world we have to unite to beat them. I know we can. That’s why we should not give up on feminism. That I think is what the idea of America was all about bad ideas Marxism, Communism, you name it all kinds of fuelisms, this nation was founded and that’s what attracted me and still attracts thousands, if not millions, of human beings to this place. It is that you have as an individual the opportunity to stand up to horrific ideas, unite and beat them.