Immigration has become the conversation-killer at water coolers, dinner parties and other gatherings of friends, and sometimes worse on the streets. An argument at a Waffle House in Asheville, N.C., turns into a shooting spree, and voters in San Bernardino, Calif., decide soon whether to bar even renting houses and apartments to illegal aliens. But in America we usually have the luxury of talking statistics. The conversations are more difficult when the argument wears a human face.
In the Netherlands the controversy is over a Muslim woman who became a member of the Dutch parliament a decade after she gave a false name, age and residence to earn asylum from an arranged marriage to an old codger she didn't love.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born politician who received credible death threats when she began denouncing the brutal oppression of Muslim women. She was forced into hiding after she wrote the film script for the movie "Submission," which she made with Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker assassinated on a street in Amsterdam by an angry Islamist. She was specifically threatened in the note pinned to his body with the knife that killed him.
Anti-immigrant fever runs high in Holland, no surprise there, and a court evicted her from her apartment when the neighbors complained of her notoriety. She has apologized for lying to get her papers, but an ambitious immigration minister suddenly revoked her citizenship. Another outcry has forced the minister to reconsider the decision, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali is moving to Washington to continue her work at the American Enterprise Institute on behalf of Islamic women.
"The Caged Virgin," her passionate plea for the emancipation of Muslim women, has just been published here, an eloquent petition for simple justice for women whose abuse is often concealed, like their bodies draped in the chador. She tells Muslim women to read John Stuart Mill's 1869 essay "The Subjection of Women" to begin to understand how women in the West were finally recognized as the equal of men. She laments the way Muslim women are socialized to believe that their oppression is right and just, and she shows how "multiculturalism" insulates them in subjugation, preventing them from joining the larger culture.
In Iran, Shirin Ebadi, another warrior woman in the cause of Muslim emancipation, has been threatened, too. She might be dead already but for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 2003, which offers a certain protection. She was a practicing lawyer only six years ago, when several men were brought to trial for conducting murders ordered by the Ministry of Intelligence. "It was the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that the state acknowledged that it had murdered its critics, and the first time a trial would be convened to hold the perpetrators accountable," she writes in her new book, "Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope." When Miss Ebadi, a lawyer representing the interests of those murdered, read a transcript of a conversation between a government minister and a member of the death squad, she was startled to read that "the next person to be killed is Shirin Ebadi."
She had at first applauded the revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini that deposed the shah, but she was soon demoted from presiding judge to mere secretary for the court. Now as a lawyer she defends mostly women who are brutalized by Muslim intolerance. In one case, the parents of a girl raped and slain were held responsible for raising thousands of dollars to pay for the execution of the men convicted for killing their daughter.
In Iran a woman's life is valued at half that of a man, and in marriage she is subject to the routine humiliations imposed by Muslim law and custom. Instead of prenuptial agreements popular in America, Iranian women try to obtain a post-nuptial agreement to press an "enlightened" husband to guarantee his wife certain rights during the marriage. Such a good man is hard to find. Most ignore such agreements.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Shirin Ebadi could tell embittered radical feminists here a thing or two about oppression. Catharine MacKinnon, the prominent radical feminist who has worked for victims of rape in Bosnia and Croatia, complains in her new book, "Are Women Human?" that "post-feminism" merely means the end of feminism because people believe there's equality. All she has learned is that no matter what men and women do in relationships or in the workplace, women suffer from "inequality." Such an inability to discriminate between real victims and the false pawns in a rhetorical argument cheats exploited women everywhere, particularly the women of Islam who deserve better.