There is a problem with Islam, I would the Muslim students who hectored me. By ignoring it, you, student or adult, do a disservice to your community. If your goal is to seek the truth, which education is supposed to do, then we cannot deny that a strict interpretation of Islam is preparation for bigotry, violence, and oppression. You cannot deny that the failure of Muslim societies in the world today to provide peace, prosperity, and opportunities to their inhabitants is linked to these beliefs. Whether your country of origin is Pakistan, Morocco, or Somalia, you are not living there for a reason. Please, embrace what you and your parents bought that airplane ticket to America for: fair justice and a better life, in a place where you can be safe from tyranny, keep the fruits of your labor, and have a say in the running of the country. And if you believe that there should be Shari'a law in America, please fly back home and take a look at what it's really like.I would cite the Quran, chapter and verse, where it specifically mandates unequal and cruel treatment of women. For instance, chapter 4, verse 34 instructs men to beat the women from whom they fear possible disobedience. In response, some would become angry and shout that other religions also have passages in their holy books that are not friendly to women. Others argued, absurdly, that beating merely referred to a symbolic tap with a tiny stick the size of a toothbrush. Most would soon segue back into their favorite theme: my exceptionally traumatized youth, my vengeful, personal vendetta against all Muslims.Such encounters with small but vocal antagonists were seldom fun. But every now and then I realized that my arguments were achieving something. Perhaps I was not changing the minds of the self-appointed defenders of Islam, but I was opening the eyes of the majority of non-Muslim students in the audience. Often I glimpsed the horror on their faces as they realized that these veiled and bearded youngsters, with whom for years they had shared cups of coffee, books, and classes, did not share their most basic values.At one speech at Scripps College, a women's liberal arts school in Claremont, California, the auditorium was packed, and even before my talk ended a long line of Muslim girls began to form in front of the microphone to ask questions. But before anyone could make the first comment, a girl in a headscarf called out from the audience, "WHO THE HELL GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO TALK ABOUT ISLAM?"A red-haired kid standing in the line yelled back, "THE FIRST AMENDMENT!"That was inspiring.
CONAN: . . .
I wanted to ask you about the experiences you describe, as you went to speak book tours and whatnot, lectures at various universities around the country. And you said you were startled to be greeted by young American Muslims, people who are born and raised here.
Ms. ALI: Yes. I went to places like Scripps College, Bucknell, places -you know, that it's not just Harvard and Yale, but colleges that are out of the way, a place where you wouldn't accept - expect jihadi rhetoric or jihadi discourse. And I was startled to find, especially young women, spouting that, saying that it's their choice to wear the veil or the burqa, or defending very strong, Shariah points of view.
And I thought: Everyone says - and has been saying for a long time - maybe education is the answer. And now, here we have these highly educated, middle-class, privileged, young people, and all they could do was defend the image of Islam. None of them would feel - or express any kind of outrage to women here in the United States who were run over by their father, killed, taken out of school. They wouldn't express any kind of outrage for the victims of Iran or the victims of - in Afghanistan. And the justification that all this is used - and it's in the name of Islam. They were more worried, they were more concerned about defending the image of Islam than they were about the human rights of fellow Muslims, and fellow men and women.
CONAN: And you feel that it isn't - we just have a few seconds left but -a fundamental error in our society: to encourage that sort of belief without challenging it.
Ms. ALI: Without challenging it. And I don't mean - I think what the military is doing is great and what the secret services are doing fine, but that's just one aspect of it. And it's a very expensive, time-consuming, resource-consuming aspect. I think we need now to really engage, get into neighborhoods where - that are majority Muslim here in the U.S. and in Europe, and offer Muslims an alternative model framework -be it secular or an alternative theology such as Christianity or, I don't know, Buddhism. But let's compete on the marketplace of ideas because right now, radical Islam has a monopoly on it, especially in Muslim communities.