Protesting an Ali Who's Not Muhammad's

It was a scene you don't see every day in Seattle: Some three dozen Islamic women in cloaks and veils descended on Town Hall last week to wave picket signs and pass out flyers. They were there to protest the appearance of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the controversial Somali émigré who's been speaking out against Islamic fundamentalism and the oppression of women. Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch member of parliament who's now a fellow at the conservative, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute, came here at the behest of the World Affairs Council to talk about her views on Muslims and her new book, Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. "We don't want hate speech here," said Entisar Ibrahim, one of the protesters, her black hijab revealing only her eyes. But when asked exactly how Hirsi Ali was a "virulently Islamophobic bigot," as the flyers labeled the visiting author, Ibrahim couldn't say. She did, however, note that she and her fellow protesters, whom she said came from all over the city rather than any specific neighborhood or mosque, were worried that Hirsi Ali's message would incite anti-Islamic feeling in Seattle. She added that the city was mostly free of such sentiment, but that she occasionally gets pointed comments about her demonstrations, such as "Don't you know you're free here?" At least one woman coming into Town Hall for the talk seemed confused by the branding of Hirsi Ali. "I thought she was a Muslim woman," the audience member said. Not exactly. Answering questions from the audience and World Affairs Council CEO Ian Moncaster, a very Western-looking Hirsi Ali, in leather boots and a cowl-neck sweater, described herself as a "dissident of Islam." She certainly didn't promote violence against Muslims. But she did put forward the deeply contentious notion that Islam was simply incompatible with modernity and feminism, and that moderates who yearned for spirituality were better off converting to Christianity. As for the protesters outside, she said, "I welcome them in the room." She said she'd like to directly ask them about a passage in Islamic doctrine that counsels husbands to beat their wives.

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