It was a scene you don't see everyday in Seattle: Some three dozen Islamic women in cloaks and veils descended on Town Hall last night to wave pickets and pass out fliers. They were there to protest the appearance of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the controversial Somali émigré who's been speaking out against Islamic fundamentalism and oppression of women.
"We don't want hate speech here," said Entisar Ibrahim, one of the protesters, her black hijab revealing only her eyes. But when asked exactly how Hirsi Ali was a "virulently Islamaphobic bigot," as the fliers labeled the visiting author, Ibrahim couldn't say.
She said nevertheless that she and her fellow protesters--whom she said came from all over the city rather than any specific neighborhood or mosque-- were worried that Hirsi Ali's message would incite anti-Islamic feeling in Seattle. She added that the city at the moment was mostly free of such sentiment but that she occasionally gets pointed comments about her appearance, such as: "Don't you know you're free here?"
At least one woman coming into Town Hall for the talk seemed confused by the branding of Hirsi Ali. "I thought she was a Muslim woman," the audience member said.
Not exactly. Answering questions from the audience and World Affairs Council CEO Ian Moncaster, a very Western-looking Hirsi Ali, in leather boots and a cowl-neck sweater, described herself as a "dissident of Islam." She certainly didn't promote violence against Muslims. But she did put forward the deeply contentious idea that Islam was simply incompatible with modernity and feminism. Moderates who yearned for spirituality were better off converting to Christianity. (Judaism could work too, she said, but the Jews stubbornly refuse to proselytize.)
As for the protesters outside, she said, "I welcome them in the room." She said she'd like to directly ask them about a passage in Islamic doctrine that counsels husbands to beat their wives.