How Do You Change One Billion Minds?
The only thing we can do in our lifetime—those of us who do want change—is to keep pushing for it.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Dutch-American feminist filmmaker and political writer. She is author of several books, the latest of which is Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. She is also founder of the AHA Foundation, a former fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former member of the Dutch parliament.
Ali is a vocal critic of Islam whose writings often focus on the religion's subjugation of women. Her work is controversial and has resulted in numerous death threats. 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 left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh's chest. This tragic event, and Ayaan’s life leading up to it, are all chronicled in her best-selling book, Infidel.
Change is incremental and I came to realize that particularly when it comes to changing the mindset of over a billion people who hold a tradition that has been around for over 1,400 years, that this not something that you can do in a few days or in a few decades.
Sometimes we see revolutions, but the revolutions we see are the outcomes of gradual, incremental, long-term struggles where people have died and people have given up in the process and people lived with frustrations. They aren’t even there to see these changes. I realized this in the Netherlands when I first started to publish after the 11th of September on why we Muslims—at the time I was a believing Muslim—are resistant to change.
Reading European history, the history of the Reformation, the history of the Enlightenment, I realized these are processes that take a very, very, very long time to change and the only thing we can do in our lifetime—those of us who do want change—is to keep pushing for it. I don’t believe in the illusion that I'll be around to see that change.
Once I was asked what is your dream for Muslim women. I said I wanted them to gather in this public square, whatever the public square is one day, and we could have all these women covered from head to toe in burkas and at a certain moment that we have organized to just pull off the thing and say “Freedom!” I know that that moment will come. Maybe it will come 50 years from now, 100 years from now, or even 1,000 years from now. I probably won’t be around for that satisfaction and still, I'm no less motivated to carry on doing what I'm doing knowing that one day that will happen.
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