Since mass migration from Africa and the Middle East into Europe since 2015, there has been a marked increase in the sexual assault and harassment of women, especially in public in Europe. Women's rights activist and best selling author Ayaan Hirsi Ali addresses this in her new book entitled, Prey: Immigration, Islam and Erosion of Women's Rights. Join Scott and Sean for a provocative discussion of this controversial subject.
About our Guest
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is founder of the AHA Foundation in New York City, devoted to protecting the rights of women around the world. She was raised in a devout Muslim family in Somalia, emigrated to the Netherlands, where she was eventually elected to the Dutch Parliament. She later came to the US where she began her foundation for women’s rights. She is the author of numerous books including her best-seller, Infidel, describing her personal story.
Scott Rae: Welcome to Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. The podcast from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of faculty and professor of christian ethics.
Sean McDowell: And I'm your co-host, Sean McDowell, professor of apologetics.
Scott Rae: We're here today with a very special guest who you may be familiar with from some of her recent books, not to mention having read about her in the newspaper. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is our guest today, and we're here to talk about her latest book entitled, Pray, not P-R-A-Y, but P-R-E-Y, subtitle, Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women's Rights. If you're not familiar with Ayaan, she'll tell you a little bit of her journey here in just a moment, but she was raised in a very devout Muslim family in Somalia, immigrated to the Netherlands and was a very well known and visible critic of the way a radical Islam was treating women, not only in the Muslim world, but in the west.
She would collaborate on a film with Theo van Gogh. In the early 2000s, was elected to the Dutch parliament. After serving in the Dutch parliament, immigrated to the United States in the mid to late 2000s. Has authored several books. One you may be familiar with, the most popular one, I think is her book Infidel, which describes her journey having been raised in a radical Muslim home and her journey out of that into life in the west. So I am really delighted to have you with us. Thank you so much for coming on.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Thank you so much for having me on.
Scott Rae: Let me ask just to start with, what was it like for you as a girl or young woman growing up in your family and community in Somalia?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Well, I would say very, very different from any young girl growing up in the United States of America. I was born in Somalia and as a young child, my family moved from Somalia to Saudi Arabia, from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia, from Ethiopia to Kenya. And in all of those places, it was very clear that girls and women were seen as inferior beings, and that is in relationship to voice and in a way that is very, very different from America and the rest of the west. It was made very clear to me as a young girl that I had to limit my intellectual, my cognitive, my physical abilities to working in the house, that is doing household chores and be trained at that and become very good at it because later on, I would become a wife and then in that sense, I would only be doing the housework, submits to my husband.
And so, every girl was told that. I remember my father and my mother having a fight amongst themselves where my father had sent my sister and me to school. And about fourth grade, my mother decided that it would bring shame to the family if we continue, there'll be the risk of bringing shame to the honor of the family if my sister and I kept on going to school. So my father was basically forcing her and saying, "I want my daughters in school and I will be responsible for the consequences of that if they shame our family." And my mother asked him pointedly, "What if they get pregnant out of wedlock?" And my father looks at me in the eye and said, "Then I will shoot you."
Scott Rae: Wow.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah. I know, and these are conversations my father didn't have with my brother or my mother didn't have. No one was worried about my brother being male or a boy, or spending time outside playing with his friends.
It was taken for granted that he would obviously not only go to school and complete his education, but someday have a great occupation and save the family, all of that. So being female, being a girl was to be shrouded, to be covered from head to toe, your freedom of movement was constrained. You were kept inside the house and you had to have a reason to be out of the house. My relationships with friends, even other girls, even that was policed most of the time. And all of this was to preserve the honor of the family.
Sean McDowell: You point out that sexual violence against women is not new. What is it that motivated you to write this book in particular at this moment?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: So sexual violence against women is not new, and it's also not limited to any geographic location, right? It is eternal and it's universal. But the subject of my book Prey is the sudden spike in sexual violence against women in the public space. It's directly correlated with men and the number of men who are coming in from the Middle East, from Africa and from South Asia. Most of these men come from Muslim majority societies. Now I make it very clear in the book that not all of these men present bad behavior or sexual misconduct towards women, but a large number of them do. And of those who do, there is no remorse. There is no sense that what they're doing is wrong. And in fact, some of the European leaders have gone to speak to the religious leaders in the mosques and Islamic centers.
And these leaders have said, "It's not the fault of the men. It's the fault of the women and the fact that in your societies use of alcohol." And so the conversation that I'm trying to start with this book is that in countries like Europe, where yes, there is still sexual misconduct in Europe, against women, but the level of that misconduct, the numbers were brought down and are still going down for native European men. But now when you have these men coming from Muslim majority societies, where the relationship between men and women is still in many ways, medieval, you will see problems like this, and they're going to spike. And this is an unintended negative consequence of immigration. Especially immigration from Muslim majority countries.
Scott Rae: Now you're suggesting in the book that since 2015, with more much more mass migration from Africa and the Middle East into Europe, that this sexual violence against women has fairly dramatically increased. Is that the main idea in the book Prey that you were trying to get across to readers that there's a correlation between this significant increase in mass migration, from Muslim majority countries into Europe and that's been the cause of this increased sexual violence toward women?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Well, I'm saying that right now what we can see is a correlation, not to be confused with causation, that I'm not confident yet in saying, using the word causation, because the numbers are still hidden. And when I was doing the research for this book, I would go to the agencies who are paid taxpayer money to engage in data gathering, but they leave out so many data points. They leave out ethnicity, nationality, religion. And in some cases, they even leave out the last names of the individual perpetrators of sexual violence. And so ironically, the agencies whose job it is to gather this particular data are in some ways engaged in actually obscuring it. Because I think there is a fear that if the numbers were to be made explicit, that maybe the populations of the relevant countries would become anti-immigrant, that's not what I think, but that's what the agencies fear. So you have sexual misconduct, as an issue itself, it is very, very difficult for women to report it to begin with.
And then there are a few women who do the reporting, but even that is then shrouded in political correctness and the politics of immigration. And so it's very hard to see the clear numbers. So I rely on interviews with the victims, with journalists, with researchers, I've gathered a lot of anecdotal evidence as much as I could from newspaper clippings and broadcasting corporations. And these are all mainstream. I have tried as much as possible not to use anything fringe. And then on top of that, the data that's gathered and the numbers I present in the book are from these sources. So that leads me to conclude, at least we have a very clear correlation. There might be a causation, but I'm not yet ready to say that, but for us to have the facts on the table without any doubt, these agencies will have to shed their political correct hats and try and obtain this data as honestly, and as openly as they can.
Scott Rae: So do you think the numbers actually might be understated because of that?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Well, absolutely. Yes. First of all, all data on sexual violence, the numbers are understated because of just the sheer number of women who don't report. And so given that, and then on top of this, this is not again, shrouded with the politics of immigration and Islam and integration. So there is this extra motivation to hide the numbers. In fact, when I was in Germany and talking, and this isn't by the way only in Germany, it's the same in Sweden. Some of the journalists would report on a sexual violence case and they would report not just the first name and the age of the perpetrator, but sometimes the skin color and the nationality. And then that particular reporter would be scholared and told, "No, you can't put this particular data in because that's going to cause racism." That's how bad things are.
Sean McDowell: What has been the response of law enforcement and politicians to these kinds of stories, coming to the surface about sexual violence against women?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The law enforcement officials I spoke to in every country are hugely frustrated. They want to do their job. They're trained to do their jobs very well. These are very compassionate men and women. They don't want to hurt immigrants or anyone else, but they see these crimes. And often it's the politicians who tie their hands and tell them, "Well, you've done the detective work, but you're not allowed to prosecute." Or, "If you prosecute, you can't do this, you can't do that."
And so I think it's very, very frustrating today in Europe to be a member of the law enforcement community, because you either watch the crimes take place and do nothing and turn away, or you do something about it and then you risk being demoted, being labeled a racist or ethnocentrism or xenophobic or whatever. And for the politicians, I think in Europe, especially when it comes to the topic of immigration and Islam and the failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate into European society, I think the leadership is in a complete crisis. They have no idea what to do, or they don't intend to resolve this problem. So they leave a void and that void is then filled by fringe groups, populists, radical Islamists, Russian trolls, all of that. So the mainstream politicians, and I would say most of them have basically failed to do their jobs.
Scott Rae: Ayaan, you point out things I wasn't aware of, that sexual violence that's perpetrated by groups of men, it's not something that you highlight as new. And I was particularly struck by your description of the event that's come to be known as the Silvesternacht. So tell us a little bit about that event.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: That event was New Year's Eve, December 31, 2015, January 1st, 2016. And in Cologne, people go out and celebrate and they drink. And I think the women, especially the women had no idea that this time it was going to be different. What they did know was about a game called the rape game. And this is very common in various North African countries, various middle Eastern countries. And what happens is you get a group of men, a large group of men who form three concentric circles, an inner circle that they pick a victim or a number of female victims, and they surround them and they start attacking these women.
And then there's the second circle, which is cheering the rapists on. And then there is a larger outer circle that is keeping outsiders from coming into that circle. And this is something that obviously the German women in Cologne had never experienced before and over 500 and what? I think I have the number in the book, reported that they were raped and robbed and groped and harassed and subjected to this particular horrifying game. And unfortunately less than 50 of those cases made it to an investigation and almost no one to a conviction.
Sean McDowell: Gosh, that is hard-
Scott Rae: That's hard to believe.
Sean McDowell: That's terrible. Thank you for sharing that. Give us a sense of what happens to some of these immigrant young men when they arrive in European cities and see these sexually liberated women there. When they've had this background of the way you described growing up how women were dressed and treated.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: First of all, I think we have to take the time to understand where these men come from. Some of these societies are still tribal. They are religious and they've been influenced by radical Islam for many decades now. So there are young men now in their teens and twenties who were born into an Islamist society, not just a Muslim society, but an Islamic society. And then you have also societies where order is completely broken down. Places like Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan. So even the existing tribal order or religious order is just completely broken down and that means that these young men are exposed a great deal of violence, especially a great deal of violence against women, that's number one. Number two, even where there is some form of order and tradition. Women are divided into good women versus bad women.
And good women are those who are obedient and submissive and stay at home and are covered from head to toe. And everyone else is a bad woman who doesn't live by that code. So when these men come to Europe, when they come to the west and they see women dressed as they please, free, going about their business, they think of them as bad women. And on top of that, as one Egyptian friend told me who is male, these men, when they think about European women, their only knowledge or acquaintance with European women or white women is through Hollywood movies, pornography and so on. And so they come extremely prejudice thinking these women are prey. They're there for the taking and their men do not protect them. And so that is why for them it seems sort of natural to play the rape game in their twos and threes and more.
And they look at this women and they attack them, they have no empathy for them. And I was talking to some of the perpetrators and witnessed some of these court cases, the men, even after they're convicted or during the trial process, everyone is looking for them to express some sign of remorse and there is none. There is no empathy. There is not remorse because the men who perpetrate these acts don't think that they've done something wrong. In fact, many of them feel that something wrong is been done to them by dragging them to court or sentencing them. So it's just a glaring culture, a glaring clash of cultures and values and a clash of civilizations.
Scott Rae: And let me try to be a little more specific about where these attitudes and values come from that are being imported into Europe with mass migration since 2015. What exactly is the role of radical Islam in this?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Radical Islamic message is as it pertains to women, the radical Islamic message is there are good women and there are bad women and good women are Muslim and they behave accordingly. The radical Islamist message is also one of conquest. And so what these radical Muslim Imam say in the mosque and Islamic centers in other platforms that they have is, we can conquer Europe through immigration. The radical Islamist message is that the infidel, that's the unbeliever, is either to be forced to come to Islam or eliminated.
The radical Islamist message as you can see unfolding before your very eyes now in this latest drama that's going on between the Palestinians and Israelis is that there is no place for a Jewish state in the Middle East, that Zionism is equal to genocide. And that Jews in the state of Israel should be eliminated. These are the radical Islamist messages, they don't hide it. They advertise it. They preach it on all sorts of platforms on social media, in mosques, in Islamic centers and the European leadership know this, but they somehow stick their heads in the sand and think this is all just going to go away.
Scott Rae: Would it be fair to say that the values of some of these Middle Eastern cultures where these immigrants are coming from is incompatible with the liberal democratic values of the west? Or is that an overstatement?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I think it's an understatement. I think that if you have people who are Muslim, but not Islamist, when they come into Europe or America, if you take them through a process of immersion in the values, the norms, the culture of democracy and liberalism and tolerance and equality, that's one thing. If you just say, "Well, you're welcome and you have access to all the services that the welfare state has to offer, which is free shelter, free education, free health care, free food." But you don't educate them, they end up going to the Islamist platforms or rather the Islamist platforms come and recruit them and preach at them.
And so, I think it's an understatement to say that there is this clash of values, but right now it's the Islamists who are working very, very hard through their channels of dour or proselytization to win the hearts and the minds of the immigrants, refugees, the asylum seekers, the European leadership is doing very, very little to win their hearts and minds. They're giving them free food and free healthcare, but they are not giving them or encouraging them to take any part of their values and their norms.
Sean McDowell: I want to make sure I understand. You made a distinction between Islamists and between Muslims. Are you saying that most of the immigrants that come over would be Muslims, but are picking up these more radical Islamist ideas once they come to Europe, by people who are recruiting them there? Or is it mixed of some bringing them and being recruited them there?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: It is mixed. It's both. So there are Islamists coming in, Islamist leaders who actually coming into preach and occupy and so on. That's a small number relatively. And then you have a somewhat larger number of people who've already been indoctrinated with the radical ideas of the Islamists. And then you have people who identify as Muslim, but who haven't yet adopted or have no clue what the Islamist political agenda is. And those ones get radicalized on European soil because in Europe, there is now a widespread infrastructure of radical Islamists, the mosques that they set up, Islamic centers that they set up, the charities that they set up and the social social media platforms that they set up.
And I've seen it with my own eyes, people coming in from North Africa, from different parts of Africa, like most of the Somalis I know were radicalized in the Netherlands, they didn't get radicalized in Somalia or Kenya. They got radicalized in the Netherlands. They got radicalized in London, so all of this is going on and right now the only agencies that are on the lookout for this sort of thing, it's the surveillance agencies. It's various forms of law enforcement. But in terms of education agencies, the soft power stuff, there's very little of that going on.
Scott Rae: Ayaan, let me just have you respond to several different things that you bring up in the book about how women are treated in these Islamist cultures. So for example, what's the modesty doctrine? And what happens to a woman who has been deemed immodest?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: So I coined the term modesty doctrine because growing up as a young Muslim woman, I'm listening to the Islamists talk. They keep on harping on modesty, modesty, modesty. And this is how they describe it. A modest woman is a virgin. She obeys or is under the guardianship of her father or her brother, or a direct male relative like an uncle if there is no father or brother to take up that responsibility. And she stays there until she's married. And once she's married, then her guardian is her husband to whom she is supposed to submit unquestioningly. That woman is modest and she displays her modesty by covering herself from head to toe and her body, every part of it is seen as an invitation to have sex for men, including her face, her eyes, her hands, her hair, her heels. So all of that has to be covered.
That's the modest woman. She's aware of that. And she stays out of the way of any man who's not a direct blood relative, or her husband. Everyone else is the immodest woman. And if you happen to be a widow or a divorcee, you still live by the rules of the modest woman, you stay at home and you'll cover yourself. All other women, the ones who are going to school, who are going to work, who dress as they please, who think of themselves as independent, individuals in charge of their own destinies and in control of their circumstances, these women are regarded as immodest and therefore are prey.
Scott Rae: Ayaan, let me ask you one final question here. We've heard a lot of bad news here in the last few minutes talking to you. I think it's a little bit depressing to think about the way women are being treated across Europe, but what I'd like to end with is what, if anything, gives you hope for protecting women's rights in the future, in the west?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The only signs of hope I've seen while I was working on this book, what immigrant women, Muslim women who are rising up against this. And I hope that they're going to find common ground with working class women, because to be honest with you, the women that I have spoken to who have been harassed and groped and raped, and who've been victims of this sexual violence brought in by these young men from Muslim majority countries are almost all working class women. And they live in working class neighborhoods, and they are the ones who have nowhere to run, nowhere to turn. And so, the immigrant women who are victimized have already been victims of these men for a long time as their sisters and wives and daughters and nieces, if they work together with working class women, I think they can form a new kind of feminism that addresses these issues. But right now I feel slightly like you, depressed because the existing feminist networks pay almost not attention to this issue. And I think there is now an opportunity to build something new and something interesting.
Scott Rae: Well, we look forward to seeing what that something new will be, because it sounds like it definitely needs to be an improvement on with what's going on at present. Ayaan, thank you so much for being with us. I want to come in to our listeners, your book entitled Prey, P-R-E-Y: Immigration, Islam and the Erosion of Women's Rights by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and some of your previous books as well, Infidel, Nomad, and several others that are just terrific works. And I think it's significant that even though we may have a difference in terms of religious background, with Sean and I being Christian and our podcast entitled, Think Biblically as a specifically Christian audience that we're addressing. We have a lot of common ground in our care for the dignity and respect for women around the world.
For us as Christians, that's rooted in our notion that all human beings, men and women, both are created in the image of God and having have inestimable intrinsic value. And so, we have a lot of common ground with what we're trying to do together to protect the rights of women around the world. So this has been just an incredibly enlightening conversation, and we wish you all the best in your work with your foundation, the AHA, Ayaan Hirsi Ali foundation, that's working on behalf of protecting the rights of women around the world. So thank you so much for being with us.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me and thank you for the work you do.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. The Think Biblically podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Offer programs in Southern California and online, including our masters in Christian apologetics now offered fully online. Visit biola.edu/talbot in order to learn more. If you enjoyed today's conversation with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, Think Biblically about everything.