When the New York Times covered a party in honor of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book, Nomad, they placed it on the same page as a sympathetic story about American Muslim women who choose to wear the full cover. The placement was telling.
The Times story about women who cover their entire bodies, including their faces, spoke of the challenges they face in America — the stares, the insults, the discomfort. Though the story made clear that Islam does not require women to socially disappear in this fashion, the women explained that covering makes them feel “closer to God.” There was more than a whiff of pity in the tale. “‘People don’t understand,’ [Hebah Ahmed] said, wiping a tear with the edge of her sleeve. ‘We’re really strong, but it takes a toll on you. Sometimes you think, I just want to rest.’”
There is nothing wrong with the editors’ decision to run a story about the small number of American Muslim women who choose to wear niqabs — except for this: Like other major liberal outlets, the Times has been utterly derelict in reporting about another aspect of life among American Muslims — honor killing.
When it comes to the brutal slayings of young Muslim women by their fathers, brothers, or husbands, the Times gets squeamish.
As Ms. Hirsi Ali relates, this misplaced sensitivity arises from the cult of multiculturalism, which would rather tolerate egregious crimes against women than offend Third World sensibilities. When the Said sisters, 19-year-old Amina and 17-year-old Sarah, were shot and killed by their father, Yaser Said, in a suburb of Dallas in late 2007, the story was buried. Though the father had been enraged by his elder daughter’s refusal to submit to an arranged marriage and by news that both girls had been secretly dating non-Muslim boys, the few stories about the case were careful to dismiss suggestions of honor killing. The Times failed to cover the story. (It was mentioned, briefly, in an opinion piece.)
Hirsi Ali offers many more examples of honor killings here in America that have received scant or, in many cases, euphemistic coverage. Fearful of stereotyping Muslims, journalists often characterize these crimes as ordinary domestic violence. Five months after the Said girls’ murders, an Afghan immigrant in Henrietta, N.Y., stabbed his 19-year-old sister to death because she frequented clubs and wore “immodest” clothing. In January 2008, a Pakistani immigrant living in Jonesboro, Ga., murdered his 25-year-old daughter by strangling her with the cord from an iron when she announced that she wanted to divorce her (arranged) husband.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a refugee in every sense from the Muslim world, pleads for Western feminists to ride to the rescue of the hundreds of millions of women and girls who are abused, mutilated, sold, traded, beaten, and hidden away in the Muslim world. “But the more pressing business is what feminists can do now to prevent an alien culture of oppression from taking root in the West. . . . This is what Americans can learn from Europe’s experience with Muslim immigration: we simply cannot compromise our own principles by tolerating honor killing, female genital mutilation, and other such practices.”
Hirsi Ali’s deeply negative views about Islam (her last book was called Infidel) must of course be considered alongside the views of women who find meaning and even nobility in the faith. But Hirsi Ali’s views command particular attention for this reason: She speaks for millions of the voiceless. We don’t hear from the others because it is a very rare heroine indeed who is willing to live as Hirsi Ali must. She is protected at all times by a security detail. Her life is in constant danger.
She has sacrificed so much to tell the truth as she sees it. She could so easily have melted into a welcoming Western society and kept her head down. The least we, who have known nothing but comfort, can do is to pay attention. Her journey from Somalia to Saudi Arabia to Kenya to Holland to America is, as she puts it, a journey of time travel as much as physical travel. It would be worth hearing the reflections of anyone who had come so far. But to hear from someone as warm, sensitive, intelligent, and insightful as Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a great gift.