Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Mass Migration, Culture, and the Undermining of Women’s Rights



Immigration is usually discussed in terms of border security, national sovereignty, wages, jobs, and sometimes even the environment. However, in her latest book, Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights, Hoover Institution research fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali, addresses the negative impact of mass migration – specifically from the Muslim world to Europe – on the rights and dignity of women, and the hypocritical and cowardly refusal of Western elites and all too many feminists to protect them.

The Author

Hirsi Ali was born in the African nation of Somalia and raised Muslim, but fled to the Netherlands, where she obtained asylum, in the early 1990s to avoid a forced marriage. There, she worked as a translator for Somali refugee women, and served in the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006. As her Hoover Institution bio states, “in 2004 Ayaan gained international attention following the murder of Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, a film about the oppression of women under Islam. The assassin, a radical Muslim, left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh’s chest.” In 2006, “disillusioned with the Netherlands,” Hirsi Ali came to the United States, but even here “has to live with round-the-clock security, as her willingness to speak out and her abandonment of the Muslim faith have made her a target for violence by Islamic extremists.”

The Crisis

The author of Prey is no opponent of immigration or granting asylum. She does, however, strongly believe that migrants and refugees must integrate into their host societies and respect their values – and that the host national governments should push them to do so. The problem, she argues, is that neither of those things seem to be happening, which, in turn, is jeopardizing the freedoms and rights of women.

A case in point: the sharp increase in sexual assaults against girls and women in Western European nations following the 2015 wave of asylum-seekers/migrants from Muslim-majority nations. In her solidly-researched monograph, Hirsi Ali proves that this rise in sexual violence against women is largely and directly attributable to the sudden influx of men from Muslim societies.

Hirsi Ali describes story after confirmed story of migrants from Islamic-majority countries – predominantly young men, but older ones also participating – hanging around Western European cities in large groups harassing, groping, or even raping women in public places. Of course, plenty of cases of “lone wolf” sexual assault also occurred, but many took the form of so-called “rape games” (taharrush gamea in Arabic) in which large groups of men encircled women and attempted to assault them. Many of the victims were native-born, although immigrants or tourists were targeted as well. (Asylum centers were also rife with migrant-on-migrant violence).

The Cultural Roots of the Problem

The problem, Prey argues, boils down to culture, or rather the clash of diametrically opposite cultures – a Western liberal one that values individual freedom and female autonomy versus a collectivistic Islamic one that often oppresses women and views them as inferior. Hirsi Ali emphasizes that the issue is not race or ethnicity – the perpetrators come from many different ethnic and racial groups – but rather one of being raised in Islamic societies where polygamy is frequently practiced and women are viewed as subordinate commodities. Women considered “immodest” – which can mean something as innocuous as walking in public without a veil or male chaperone – can easily be deemed “fair game” for harassment, or worse.

This same misogynistic attitude was all too often projected onto European women, both by migrants coming as part of the post-2015 wave, as well as immigrants who came from Muslim-majority countries earlier. European women, especially if they freely moved around in public, without a male companion, and if they dressed in an allegedly revealing manner, were viewed as “asking for it.” Moreover, as Hirsi Ali emphasizes, “religious teachings from the twelfth century, still cited in mosques today, distinguish some women as virtuous and chaste by nature and others as licentious.”

Why the European Elites Don’t Seem to Care

With great frustration, Hirsi Ali notes that the reaction of the European elites – including mainstream politicians, journalists, academics, and police leadership – to the post-2015 sexual assault wave was a mix of denial, cover-ups, apathy, cultural relativism, and even blaming the victims. All too many migrant rapists and harassers received slaps on the wrist – if they were caught at all – while women were told by government or media figures to cover up, avoid certain public places, buy pepper spray, etc. Some women were even accused of “xenophobia,” “racism,” or “Islamophobia,” while some lawyers and activists fought hard to ensure that migrant criminals and rapists are not deported (very few are removed anyway). As a classical liberal feminist, the author is particularly disappointed with many Western feminists who, in the age of #MeToo, have chosen to look the other way.

Why did the European elites stick their heads in the sand? A big chunk of the puzzle is simply Western guilt and the desire to atone for the sins of the past, such as racism or colonialism. In Germany’s case, the drive to finally overcome the legacy of Hitler and the Holocaust was a major motive in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open her country’s borders to a mass influx of Middle Eastern migrants and asylum-seekers. The irony is that this not only led to increased sexual assault against women but also more attacks against Jews. The European elites also preferred to keep quiet about migrant sexual assault, lest it benefit so-called “anti-immigration” parties. Center-left parties, having lost many working-class voters, “have embraced the idea that growing numbers of Muslim immigrants are the new proletariat,” and thus prefer to eschew any accusations of “Islamophobia.” And the extreme left even welcomed the migrant crisis as “an opportunity to ‘deal a death blow to capitalism’ and enthusiastically adopted refugee rights as an instrument in their ‘project of universal liberation.’ Indeed, some have embraced the idea of open borders as an almost revolutionary project.” The dignity of women could thus not be allowed to get in the way of mass migration and was sacrificed on the altar of the above interlocking ideological agendas.

Hirsi Ali states that it was a “passionate desire to preserve” Western civilization, without which the book “would have no meaning,” and which “allows for liberties and freedoms unlike any other civilization,” that drove her to write the book. To save the West, she proposes fundamentally reforming asylum and immigration, allowing entry primarily on the basis of “how far they [immigrants and asylees]are likely to abide by the laws and adopt the values of their host society.” Above all, Prey is a much-needed reminder of how crucial culture is – or should be – to the immigration debate.

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