I sat through Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s address at the Silver Eagle Suite at the University of North Texas on Feb. 20 and listened to her smear the religion of one-fifth of humanity as a monolithic, monstrous creed that sanctions such heinous practices as honor killing and female genital mutilation.
While I listened, I wondered if the damage done by such a polarizing simplistic rant-damage to intercultural understanding and interfaith dialogue-could be mitigated by one concisely worded question.
My predicament: which one of the numerous half-truths and falsehoods packed in the brief speech should I address? Should I remind the audience that Coptic Christians of Egypt practice honor killing just as their Muslim neighbors?
Would I have to reiterate the fact that genital mutilation predates both Islam and Christianity and, while not sanctioned by either religion, persists as a vestige of the earlier animistic practices?
Would it be better to state that the nemesis of civility, tolerance and human rights is not religion as such, but the “illusion” of a literal reading of the scriptures that creates dangerous fundamentalists in every religion, with lurid dreams and plans of fiery holocausts to usher in the end of the world?
Then I decided that none of these would be an optimal use of the few seconds I would have at the microphone. So I settled on this question:
“Ms. Ali, what makes you believe that the traditional Islam cannot follow the path of its two other historical and doctrinal neighbors — Judaism and Christianity – into modernity, tolerance and respect for human and civic rights? What would make this religion an ‘exception’ to the rule of all other religions? Why would Islam have to be stereotyped and excoriated as an ‘immanent,’ ominous, and unchanging reality while all the other religions are seen as developing and adapting to new circumstances and mores? Finally, if Islam is not an exception to the rule, then why not cast it as it is: as a religion susceptible to retail reform from within (a venture well under way in the Islamic world) rather than wholesale attack from without?”
Alas, I was not afforded the opportunity to pose a single question. The session hurriedly adjourned in less than one hour and with four questions posed to the speaker – only one of which was critical.
Afterwards, I ran into the president of the university and expressed my dismay at the way in which the Q&A section of the event had been handled. Dr. Bataille graciously listened to me and responded, “Well, we had no idea what people were going to say.” I wondered if the moderator of the event shared this blissful innocence: had he just pulled four random numbers out of his proverbial hat – three of who were Anglo males?
Forgive me for harboring a slight suspicion that the reason I (and others who “look” like me) were not selected on this occasion is the same reason we are selected for special attention in airports.
Muslims, regardless of their moderation, reform-mindedness, modern outlook or secular views, are subjected to “creedal profiling” from time to time and this reality, while mildly amusing at the airport, is not amusing at all in academia.