Azar Nafisi: What do you think of Ayaan Hirsi Ali?
Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which electrified its readers with a compassionate and often harrowing portrait of the Islamic revolution in Iran and how it affected one university professor and her students. The book has spent over 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Azar Nafisi’s new book, Things I Have Been Silent About: Memories, a memoir about her mother, was published in January 2009.
Azar Nafisi is a Visiting Professor and the executive director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics. Azar Nafisi held a fellowship at Oxford University, teaching and conducting a series of lectures on culture and the important role of Western literature and culture in Iran after the revolution in 1979. She has taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabaii.
Azar Nafisi: I mean there are many aspects to her which we can’t go in detail. But I do not have the same views as she has. I think she is very militantly anti-Islam, while I do see more colors or nuances into it. But one thing that I . . . that I object to in the attacks on her is that first of all they cannot accept that a woman can come from a Muslim background and have the views that ...has. While any society would need those views as well, it is good to have someone who is radically and fundamentally against you in order to challenge you; to interrogate your ideas; to make you think about yourself. I mean if you agree that you’re democratic, you don’t attack ... as some . . . as a western entity because she loves Western liberal ideas. And also remember that the fundamentalists . . . Islamists got their philosophy from the west. Only they got it from the fascists and the Stalinists. It’s not as if there are pure Islamic . . . The traditional Islamics are not like these people, you know? So those who attack ...themselves are attacking in a Western style. And the second thing that bothers . . . And anyway she’s talking from her own experiences. Female genital mutilation might be a cultural product and not just an Islamic product, but the Islamic society is not saying that it’s bad. So as long as they are not rejecting it, people would say it’s Islamic. If it’s just the culture that belongs to long time ago, why don’t you abolish it? You know so there is that problem that stays. The state is very good at abolishing a lot of things, you know? And the last thing about ... that is very disturbing is that this woman, for what she has been saying . . . And let us say that everything that she’s been saying has been terrible, you know? But for her words and for her opinions, she’s condemned to live in hiding basically because of the fear for her life. And I think that this is an issue that we should take seriously in a democratic society when we attack her more than we attack the conditions that put her in that situation.
Recorded on: 2/22/08
Even if you don't agree with her views, Nafisi says, Hirsi Ali should not have to fear for her life for expressing them.
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