Original guest post
By Hakeem Muhammad
In Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s recent op-ed, From Selma to Tunis: When Will We March Against the Segregation of Our Own Time, the Somalian ex-Muslim activist posits that segregation within Western liberal states is a phenomenon of the past. She asserts that racism impacting African-Americans has lessened, and that “a different group is [now] the victim of comparable legal discrimination that imposes segregation on them”: women in the Muslim majority world.
Ali’s entire political thought uses every tool in the arsenal of the White supremacist power structure: the myth of a post-racial America and the myth of American exceptionalism (i.e. “America treats women well; the problem is ‘over there’ in the Middle East”).
Ali’s celebration of the end to legal discrimination in the liberal Western world and promotion of the narrative of American exceptionalism obscures and conceals the systemic anti-black, anti-women violence that is structurally, physically, and psychologically present throughout the USA and further allows for its perpetuation.
Oppression of Women in “Liberal” States
When Black American women (such as Assata Shakur, Sister Souljah, Tynetta Muhammad), including converts to Islam discuss through speeches and books their oppression in living within a classic liberal state, they challenge the post-racial myth promoted by the likes of Ali.
In marked comparison to the royal treatment Ali receives, for these Black American women, the classic sapphire trope emerges, a narrative portrayal of the “angry Black woman” (in which Black women are seen as always complaining, with their issues never being taken seriously) is reinforced.
Black scholar Bell Hooks identifies capitalism, White supremacy, and patriarchy as three interlocking systems of oppression. Indeed, it is this oppressive paradigm which controls the narratives of women’s oppression that people listen to, sympathize with, and gain support for, and which is abandoned and neglected.
An illustrative example is when Black activist, political prisoner and exile, Assata Shakur states,”I am more concerned about the rise of the prison industrial complex that is turning our people into slaves again,” it hardly breaks through to the mainstream. Stories such as her’s, highlighting oppression under “enlightened” secular Neo-Liberal law garner minimal, if any, media attention.
In contrast, Ali’s story of oppression (exposed as filled with deception and lies) gets enough attention that she is lauded as a hero precisely because the values that she promotes are in line with the dominant White power structure.
It’s no wonder Ali’s demographic consists largely of New Atheists like Sam Harris, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins whose racist views emanate from the very “enlightenment” that Ali constantly promotes with blind zeal.
Ali’s conclusion reiterates her claim that racial discrimination in Western liberal states has been significantly rolled back and then posits “liberal enlightenment” as the antidote to structural violence against Muslim women. A narrative that completely contradicts the reality of many Black women.
The reality of racial discrimination is not limited to Blacks but is also witnessed in the contemporary experience of long marginalized and oppressed Native-American women.
Native American women on reservations have been raped and receive no justice.
“We have serial rapists on the reservation — that are non-Indian — because they know they can get away with it,” … Asetoyer was talking about the loophole that prevents tribal authorities, who have jurisdiction over crimes committed on Indian territory by Indians, from having any authority over non-Indian male abusers. That’s despite the fact that non-Indian men account for an estimated 80 percent of rapes of Indian women … the astronomical rate of abuse of Indian women is well documented by the federal government.
Charon Asetoyer, executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Resource Center has stated, “It’s immoral that the Congress of the United States would stand there and say that Indian women are less than their White counterparts.” Native American victims of rape have been given little, if any, justice in the supposedly enlightened judicial system of the United States.
While Ali seeks to portray the liberal West as a role model for women’s rights—opposing the “backwards” Islamic world—such a portrayal is, as we can see, vastly inaccurate. Though the oppression of women, especially minority women is a systemic social problem in the US, less media attention has been given to it than to the stories of oppression of Middle Eastern women.
Not only have Native Americans throughout history been systematically dehumanized, raped, tortured, killed, and herded into reservations—with White settlers taking away their basic rights to land, voting, etc.—but this behavior still exists under the liberal law that Ali extols as a panacea for all the world’s ills.
In fact, some Native American women scholars such as Sandy Grande consider the modern-day attempts to assimilate Native Americans to liberalism as a continuation of the cultural genocide that began because of the differences between the worldviews and cosmology held by White settlers (not to mention sheer greed for land and “glory”).
Selma to Soweto: Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Post Racial/Post-Apartheid Myth
Ali asserts that the number of individuals oppressed by Islam “is vastly larger than the number that was affected 50 years ago by segregation and apartheid.” Despite Ali’s dogmatic New Atheism (which is purportedly based on rationality and empiricism), no credible evidence for her claim is given.
Ali portrays apartheid as a problem of the past, in reality, the Whites in South Africa still control the majority of the land, wealth, and other South African resources, while the much greater population of Blacks continue to be disproportionately impoverished and incarcerated.
The Native Law Act passed in South Africa confined the Native Black population to 7% of the land. In a 2013 study, Cherryl Walker and Alex Dubb determined that, “Whites as a social category still own most of the country’s land.” Thus, the end of de’jure racism has not signaled the end of structural racism.
Concerning America, Ayaan Hirsi Ali states: “the president was right to push back against the idea that nothing has changed since 1965.”
Instead of citing a politician with an agenda, Barack Obama, Ayaan Hirsi Ali would do better to look into the works of Obama’s professor at Harvard University, Derick Bell, who highlighted that while the legal system of racism may have changed, structural racism merely changed its modus operandi.
Even after the Fair Housing Act and Brown Vs. Board of Education, African-Americans continue to face racism from housing realtors and continue to be confined to impoverished and segregated schools. In a study on the impact of the Fair Housing Act passed in Chicago to outlaw racial discrimination, sociologist Douglass S. Massey notes that, due to practices such as redlining, racial steering, and block-busting that developed in the Post-Jim Crow era, “the level of Black-White segregation has hardly changed.”
In an empirical study titled, “The Prison Boom & Lack of Black Progress,” University of Chicago economists Derek Neal and Armin Rick examined Black and White income inequality, unemployment rates, and the increasing number of Black men in Chicago who are in prison. Neal and Rick concluded that: “the Great Recession has left most black men in a position relative to White men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.”
The Raw truth
Yet, rather than addressing the de facto racism that has emerged as White supremacy hidden under a different guise, Ali prefers to focus on the “new segregation” of Islam. In her sloppy quoting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she cynically seeks to co-opt the African-American freedom struggle which is on-going and continuing, exclusively for her own Islamophobic ends.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not a hero following in the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement as she pretends. The raw truth is that Ali left Islam and effectively converted to White supremacy. Ali’s entire political thought uses every tool in the arsenal of the White supremacist power structure: the myth of a post-racial America and the myth of American exceptionalism.
As self-professed vanguards of “modern liberalism” turn their sights on Islam as the new big enemy, such actions only lead to more racism against Muslims (especially Muslim sisters) and cover up for deep structural and societal problems, rendering them invisible and/or trivial.
About the Author: Hakeem Muhammad is a 20-year old African-American Muslim who currently studies political science at West Georgia University. God willing, in the future he plans to study Islamic theology and be a positive force for social change. You can find him at his website www.hakeemmuhammad.com and on twitter at @hakeemtheroots.
-Ali, Ayaan. “From Selma to Tunis: When Will We March Against the Segregation of Our Own Time?” The Huffington Post. Accessed March 28, 2015.
-Hooks, Bell. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. London: Pluto Press, 2000.
-Johannes G Hoovegeen et al. “Not Separate, Not Equal: Poverty and Inequality in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” William Davidson Institute (2005).
 Dissel & Kollapen. “Racism and Discrimination in the South African Penal System” – Accessed February 21, 2015. http://csvr.org.za/old/wits/papers/papadjk.htm.