Human rights activist, Islam critic to speak this month at CU Boulder

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A human rights activist and outspoken critic of Islam will speak this month at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a best-selling author, fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, founded a nonprofit to advocate for women and girls’ rights and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2005.

Hirsi Ali’s experience with the Muslim faith — including being subjected to female genital mutilation as a child and fleeing her family in Somalia to escape a forced marriage — inform her writing, speaking and her work advocating for women and girls through the AHA Foundation, which she founded.

In her books, Hirsi Ali has contended that violence against women, including “honor killings” and child marriage, are not so much fringe Islamic beliefs as they are rooted in the religion’s sacred texts, and she has called for widespread reform of Islam.

The Benson Center was approached by a foundation about sponsoring the event, said Interim Director Ben Hale.

“All of the faculty members on our committee decided (Hirsi Ali) would bring a voice to campus that might not be here otherwise,” Hale said.

Hale acknowledged there could be some pushback over Hirsi Ali’s visit to campus.

“I want to minimize controversy and maximize discourse,” he said. “We have a lot of opportunities on campus to express and voice positions, and all different student and faculty groups should be enabled to voice those in whatever forum they think appropriate.”

Professor Patty Limerick, who is on the center’s faculty advisory committee, said she is looking forward to learning more about the issues, especially given the at-times tenuous relationship between western feminist activism and issues facing women in countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

“In that context, having Ayaan Hirsi Ali visit CU is a remarkable opportunity to challenge old habits of mind and to experiment with fresh and innovative forms of understanding an extremely complicated and highly charged set of questions about the well-being of women worldwide,” Limerick said.

Doug Brown, of the Abby and Douglas Brown Family Foundation sponsoring the event, said Hirsi Ali “speaks her truth.”

“Our foundation encourages dialogue from everyone,” he said in a statement. “The Benson Center, which promotes open discourse from both sides, is the perfect partner for this event.”

A representative from the Islamic Center of Boulder, Tracy Smith, said people with questions about Islam are free to contact the center.

“There’s so much misinformation out there and I think that’s the same with a lot of religions,” she said. “We do believe that people are entitled to their beliefs, but we want people to get information from a valid source and we definitely are one of those valid sources.”

If you go

What: “The Market for Victimhood,” a conversation with Ayaan  Hirsi Ali

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 27

Where: Math 100, University of Colorado Boulder, 2300 Colorado Ave.

More info: To register for the event, visit colorado.edu/center/benson

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