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Attacks on Dissidents and Reformers

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Updated April 30, 2021


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Ali was born in Somalia and reports that she was subjected to female genital mutilation as a child. Ali traveled to the Netherlands, she states, to escape an arranged marriage. There she received political asylum, left Islam, and became a member of the Dutch parliament. She collaborated with Theo van Gogh on a film exposing restrictions of women’s rights under Islam. Ali has received numerous awards, including The Prize of Liberty, the Freedom Prize bestowed by Denmark’s governing Liberal Party "for her work to further freedom of speech and the rights of women,” and “Person of the Year” by the Dutch news magazine Elsevier, among others. 


Ali’s work as a human rights advocate has been regarded as important by individuals and groups across the political spectrum. Nonetheless, Ali has become a target for many white leftists, like the New York Time’s Jill Filipovic. In the Times’ “Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Muslim Men and Western Women, Filipovic wrote of Ali:


“There are few women in the world who generate as much animosity, and as many accusations of hypocrisy...[M]any Muslims say she’s just an Islamophobe. She was put on a Qaeda[sic] hit list and called an anti-Muslim ‘extremist’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center…”(1)


Astonishingly, Filipovic trivializes Ali’s journey as a survivor. Ali’s co-director Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic extremist; she herself had an Islamic fatwa placed for her assassination and has received numerous public death threats. According to the Oxford dictionary, a phobia is “an extreme or irrational fear of something.” How, exactly, is does Ali suffer from an “extreme or irrational fear” when concerns for her life and safety appear well-founded?


Filipovic’s acknowledgment that Ali was “put on an a Queda[sic] hit list” reads like she is introducing evidence for Ali being an “Islamophobe” in the same vein as being “called an anti-Muslim ‘extremist’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” Filipovic slanders Ali in omitting mention that the SPLC deleted its so-called anti-Muslim hate list(2) and paid a $3.375 million award to one of its victims after “falsely naming Anti-Muslim extremists.”(3) Lee Smith wrote in Tablet Magazine that “It is putting bounties on the heads of Muslims like Maajid Nawaz, who are opposed to Muslim extremism...The SPLC document is simply an enemies’ list, of the kind that fascists, Stalinists, and other totalitarian thinkers can’t help producing.”(4) 


Even the left-leaning Washington Post wondered critically, “Is the Southern Poverty Law Center Judging Hate Fairly?”(5) and opined that “The Southern Poverty Law Center has lost all credibility.”(6) Yet the New York Times has continued to tout the group’s discredited and retracted list as if it were authentic and meaningful, rather than a political “hit list” composed by partisan extremists. Filipovic’s sequential listing of an “[al] Queda hit list” and the Southern Poverty Law Center list may be related items, but surely not in the way that she intends. 


While pushing a discredited narrative and withholding salient facts from her readers, Ms. Filipovic has the chutzpah to accuse Ali of hypocrisy. Ali is an accomplished and impressive human rights advocate who appears to be viewed as generating "animosity" by few beyond partisan extremists. Filipovic’s frame of reference is centered on the far-left atmosphere at the New York Times. Even despots like the Supreme Leader of Iran are treated more kindly within the pages of the New York Times. Muslim contributors interviewed in connection with this article expressed greater tolerance and understanding towards Ayaan Hirsi Ali than Ms. Filipovic. Filipovic fails to engage Ali’s core concerns, yet ironically charges Ali with debating “straw men.” She wrote:


“Hirsi Ali calls for a new feminist movement, one in which true feminists are ‘prepared to stand up for the rights of all women’...Those are certainly laudable goals for a feminist movement, which is precisely why you may be wondering: Isn’t that what feminists have been doing this whole time? It is. Feminists the world over have agitated for greater freedoms for women, putting the right to be free of male violence at the center of their work and steadily rejecting the argument that patriarchal abuses are excusable in any culture.”


Ali’s feminism, Filipovic alleges, is not “a feminism of standing up for the rights of women. It is a feminism of reaction.” Yet Western feminists were conspicuously absent as brave women in Iran risked their lives against an oppressive patriarchy to dress as they choose and exercise other basic rights;(7) some lost their lives. Open Doors International reports that between November 2019 and October 2020, approximately 1,000 Christian women in Pakistan underwent forced marriages to Muslim men; many are underage girls abducted and denied contact with their families.(8) Where, exactly, were Filipovic and other left-wing feminists in “steadily rejecting the argument that patriarchal abuses are excusable in any culture?” Deep-rooted oppression of women under the guise of religious tradition in the Middle East and North Africa has evoked little outcry or call from reform from Western leftists and ostensible guardians in the press.

Iran was bizarrely elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in April 2021, drawing outrage from human rights activists.(9) Yet Filipovic, her fellow-travelers at the New York Times, and the Biden administration were conspicuously silent. Where, in these and countless other cases, were Filipovic and other left-wing feminists in “steadily rejecting the argument that patriarchal abuses are excusable in any culture?”


Filipovic attempts to delegitimize Ali as a women’s advocate and voice for human rights in the eyes of her readers. She feels palpably threatened that Ali is an articulate defender of human rights and not an ideologue pushing hot-button items, and appears incapable of dealing honestly with meritorious concerns.


Ali argues that feminist and human rights activists should promote a consistent standard for all, that women should enjoy the same rights and freedoms in Islamic-majority nations as in western democracies. Filipovic disputes her and tries to paint her as an “Islamophobe.” This essay addresses only a few of Filipovic's numerous smears against Ali. Readers can decide for themselves who is the defender of women’s rights, and human rights generally, and who is the hypocrite. 

What precisely is Ali’s crime that evokes such hate and bigotry from Filipovic?  Others have noted that minorities who don’t “‘sit down and shut up’ and obey’ enrage the left.”(10) The conduct of Filipovic, a privileged white Western leftist, is sadly par for the course, as Italian Giulio Meotti documented with numerous examples in his piece “White Liberals Attack Brown Islamic Dissidents.”(11) Meotti concluded: “The fatwas of the white liberals hit hard as the violent ones of the Muslim extremists.”


Whereas dissidents from Soviet Communism were embraced and, to a large degree, heard in the West, the left has marginalized and attempted to silence dissidents from other forms of oppression. Fair-minded people across the political spectrum should repudiate attempts to silence or marginalize dissenters of conscience and should speak out to hold perpetrators accountable.



1. Filipovic, Jill. "Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Muslim Men and Western Women." New York Times, February 9, 2021. 

2. Crowe, Jack. "Southern Poverty Law Center Quietly Deleted List of 'Anti-Muslim' Extremists After Legal Threat". National Review, April 19, 2018. 

3. Naham, Matt. "Southern Poverty Law Center Must Pay $3.3 Million After Falsely Naming Anti-Muslim Extremists." Law & Crime, June 18, 2018. 

4. Smith, Lee. "A New Blacklist From the Southern Poverty Law Center Marks the Demise of a Once-Vital Organization." Tablet Magazine, October 30, 2016. 

5. Montgomery, David. “Is the Southern Poverty Law Center Judging Hate Fairly?” Washington Post, November 8, 2018. 

6. Thiessen, Marc A. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has lost all credibility.” Washington Post, June 22, 2018. 

7. Meotti, Giulio. "Iranian Women Defy the Mullahs; Western Feminists Nowhere in Sight." Gatestone Institute, January 19, 2020. 

8. “Another Christian Girl in Pakistan Abducted, Forcibly Converted.” Morning Star News, March 13, 2021.

9. Lipin, Michael and Ramin Haghjoo. "Iran's Election to UN Women's Body Draws Outrage From Rights Activists, US Silence." Voice of America News, April 24, 2021. 

10. “Cruz: Minorities like Tim Scott who don't 'sit down and shut up and obey' 'enrage' the left.” Fox News, April 29, 2021.  

11. Meotti, Giulio. "White Liberals Attack Brown Islamic Dissidents." Gatestone Institute, March 28, 2017. 

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