She’s been named one of the world’s most influential people, a traitor to her faith, a woman of the year and a target for terrorists.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a sleek, soft-spoken native of Somalia, does not shy away from accolades and accusations against her. She warmly greeted a crowd of more than 500 people gathered Thursday at the downtown Hyatt Regency Dallas as part of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth global philanthropy series.
She began her speech by pointing to the killings of Sarah and Amina Said, Lewisville sisters whose father, Yaser Said, disappeared after the two were shot and left to die in his parked cab at an Irving hotel in January.
“I want to tell you why their father killed them,” Ms. Hirsi Ali said.
Mr. Said’s daughters were known to date non-Muslim men and dress in Western clothing, Ms. Hirsi Ali said, and in her estimation, the perceived loss of honor motivated Mr. Said, an Egyptian-born Muslim, to take his children’s lives.
Mr. Said is accused by police in connection with his daughters’ slayings. Family members have denied that his religion or culture had anything to do with the killings.
Ms. Hirsi Ali described a “cult of virginity” in Islam directed only toward women, wherein men are absolved of their sexual urges and are charged with protecting the honor of the family at all costs. The honor and shame code is an integral part of a culture that values virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward.
“The essence of a woman in this culture is reduced to the value of their hymen,” she said. “In countries ruled by Islam, women are treated as slaves or pets.”
She quickly pointed out, “I must add that not all Muslim men are perpetrators and not all Muslim women are victims.”
Born in Somalia, she and her family moved to Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia, eventually settling in Kenya, where she practiced a strict form of Islam. A victim of genital mutilation, Ms. Hirsi Ali eventually sought asylum in the Netherlands after a forced marriage.
“There is no argument that can be made for tolerating the killing and abuse of women and girls,” she said.
Yanina Vashchenko, an interfaith coordinator with Thanks-Giving Square, said Ms. Hirsi Ali’s story is compelling. “A childhood like that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy,” she said.
But she said that Ms. Hirsi Ali, who is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, had been heavily influenced by her own negative experiences and expressed concern that as a public speaker she would encourage people to take an unfairly negative view of Islam.
“It’s very dangerous,” she said. “They want somebody of the faith to talk bad about the faith.”
Dr. Nia Mackay, a mother of two from Indonesia, said it was difficult to listen to the speech. “It makes me sad that she’s blaming one religion instead of emphasizing a problem.”
Dr. Mackay, 46, a Muslim and part-time aerobics teacher, was featured in the documentary American Ramadan and is president-elect for the nonprofit organization Peacemakers Inc.
L.D. Bell High School senior Christina Miranda, 17, one of several students in attendance, said she appreciates Ms. Hirsi Ali’s contributions and courage to speak about the hardships women face in Muslim societies.
Clutching a copy of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s memoir, Infidel, she said, “I think she’s trying to make life better.”
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