"Islam Is Exempted from Scrutiny-And Spreading Fast"

By Elmhirst, Sophie | New Statesman (1996), July 5, 2010 | Go to article overview

"Islam Is Exempted from Scrutiny-And Spreading Fast"


Elmhirst, Sophie, New Statesman (1996)


You grew up in Africa and then moved to the Netherlands. How did that affect you?

It was my first gateway to western life as it is lived, not the way I read in novels in Kenya.

You have written of your traumatic childhood. Is there anything that you owe your family?

I am grateful to my father for sending me to school, and that we moved from Somalia to Kenya, where I learned English. And that my mother has always been a very strong woman.

Your family still lives within Islam. How do they feel about your atheist life in America?

My brother thinks it is very, very bad that I left Islam. My half-sister wants to convert me back; I want to convert her to western values. My mum is terrified that when I die, and we all go to God, I will be burned.

Do you feel that you belong in America?

I'm finally at home. I feel welcome, I feel free.

Which thinkers have shaped your ideas?

Many: John Locke and John Stuart Mill, Fried-rich Hayek, people like Karl Popper. Defenders of individualism.

You defend free speech, yet you're under guard because you criticise Islam publicly. How do you deal with this contradiction?

I'm willing to face the continuous stream of threats. It's not the same as my freedoms being taken away. If I'd gone with the man my father chose, I wouldn't be living the way I want to.

Did you intend to become known for your outspokenness on Islam?

I don't define myself by this subject, I just publish and debate other participants' involvement.

In your book Nomad, you talk about the west's superiority as an objective truth.

Freedom, women's rights, prosperity, stability--by all these indicators, the west is superior. That's not opinion, it's basic fact.

What do you want your work to achieve?

I'd like Muslims to look at their religion as a set of beliefs that they can appraise critically and pick and choose from.

Is there anything you like about Islam?

There are things I don't mind--people praying and fasting because it makes them feel good. But there are all these rules governing men and women. And the political dimension: jihad.

What ideology does appeal to you?

Liberal capitalism is not perfect, but compared to the other isms it's far superior.

Do you ever worry that your ideas contribute to mistrust or intolerance of Muslims?

I don't think so. What I do is not create division, but expose the reasoning and the activity, and how persistently it violates human rights.

When you talk about a clash of civilisations, are you trying to be provocative? …

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