Hirsi Ali lecture will only breed fear
Hirsi Ali's antagonistic rhetoric will not benefit the university's religious conversation.
By Rashid Dar, Muslim Students Association
“When I was asked for my opinion, I explained that Islam was like a mental cage. At first, when you open the door, the caged bird stays inside: it is frightened. It has internalized its imprisonment. It takes time for the bird to escape, even after someone has opened the doors to its cage.”–Ayaan Hirsi Ali
In an e-mail sent to the UW Muslim Students Association (MSA) on behalf of Dean of Students Lori Berquam regarding the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Distinguished Lecture Series (DLS) committee’s decision to bring controversial anti-Islam writer and speaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of “Infidel,” it was claimed that “the campus does not support the marginalizing or stigmatizing of any groups. Rather, we hope that these kinds of events promote dialogue in an effort to grow and learn.”
That’s funny. I didn’t know the university had such a keen sense of humor.
I will be clear: Bringing Ms. Hirsi Ali on behalf of DLS was a mistake. Why? The university provides DLS with the funding it uses to bring the speakers it brings (which, I needn’t remind you, comes in large part from us). These speakers are presumably speakers who “challenge norms and ideals.” I agree with that philosophy, and wholeheartedly so.
And you know, I can totally see how Ms. Hirsi Ali does this. Tonight, you may go and watch her speak before a packed Union Theater. And there you will learn about the barbarism, the backwardness and the all-out monstrosity of Muslims all around the world. And then you’ll be told that the reason for all this is because of Islamic teachings! This fits your warped preconceptions perfectly! This will make you feel smart, like you knew it all along. Who doesn’t like the occasional pseudo-intellectual high?
Then you’ll go home, maybe throw down a brat for dinner. Who doesn’t like brats? Then it’ll hit you...Do they hate our brats too? You will now get suspicious. Maybe your token Muslim friend, “Mo,” shouldn’t be trusted with just everything. You may find yourself viewing him as a threat, as an “other”––and maybe you’ll forget to invite him to your birthday party next week. He doesn’t drink anyway; he’s kind of a loser.
Do you see where this all leads? From confirmed suspicions to subconscious prejudices and finally to hatred––a need to do something ‘bout dem dere Mozlemz.
You may now be wondering if the Muslims here at UW are furious, ready to burn down the nearest McDonald’s. I can assure you we are not. If anything, we’re disappointed because as Badgers we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Now, you’re not going to hear that the MSA does good things like help sponsor several orphans every year. That we held our Ramadan program in collaboration with UW-Hillel. That we attempt to educate the campus community through our Islam Awareness Week program every year. Or, most importantly, that we provide great numbers of Muslim students with a relaxed and open forum to discuss their lives as college students, as the sons and daughters of immigrants, as converts to the faith, as brothers and sisters linked by a common belief that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His Last Messenger.
Instead, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s not-so-subtle takeaway message will be: Fear the Islamic threat.
I can totally see how this definitely “challenges norms and ideals” by bringing a speaker who works to erase from our collective memory the positive progress made by Muslims worldwide, who still remain deeply committed to their faith. So the next time the Offices of the Dean of Students e-mails me underscoring its commitment to “promote dialogue in an effort to grow and learn,” I’m not sure they’ll actually mean it.
But hey, maybe next year they’ll use our segregated fees to bring Fred Phelps! On Wisconsin!
Rashid Dar is the