Civilization that Honors Its Heretics

Freedoms – they are the foundation of our way of life; of our civilization – a civilization that learned, slowly and painfully, not to burn heretics, but to honor them. In a few days, I will join my fellow American friends in celebrating our hard-won freedoms.

Ayaan_Citizenship_Photo-1.jpgWhen I received a visa to enter the US, I told myself to be worthy of that visa. Like other immigrants, I came here with a dream. While my fight to free myself of oppression may be over, my dream to see others freed too is what inspires my work.

One of the early suffragettes, Alva Belmont, said that American women must serve as a beacon of light, telling not only the story of what they have accomplished, but also representing a lasting determination that women around the world shall be “free citizens, recognized as the equals of me.”

I have spent more than a decade fighting for women’s and girls’ basic rights. I have never been afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of culture and religion in that fight. And to shed light on oppression and abuse that are forced on many women in the US.

In my books, lectures and my work with the AHA Foundation, I aim to inspire those listening to think of the others, those women and girls who are still locked in the chains I left behind. In this world, girls – still children – are married to adult men they have often never met, sentenced to a life of arranged rape. Women, many of whom may long to live productive, working lives, are instead confined within the walls of their father’s or husband’s house. Girls and women are abused, verbally or physically, for a sidelong glance, a suspicion of lipstick, a text message, an open expression of untraditional sexuality.

They have nowhere to turn because their parents, community and religious leaders approve of these deadening punishments. And what is still surprising to many of my fellow Americans, these hurting children and women live among us – in the land of the free.

AHA1.jpgMany people in the United States today seem more worried about being labeled “bigoted” or “racist” for speaking out against harmful traditional practices such as honor violence than about the practices themselves. In my view, that is downright immoral. Simply stated, there is no honor in honor violence. It is criminal.

Honor violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation are crimes being perpetrated today against women and girls who live in this country. They are US citizens. They are our neighbors, classmates, patients, students, employees, and friends. They are hurt, shamed and even at risk of being killed. They desperately need our help. They deserve to have, just like you and I, a chance to pursue their happiness.

In a country that is built on values of freedom, openness and tolerance it is the duty of each one of us to ensure all our fellow citizens have access to these values.

As you prepare to celebrate Independence Day this 4th of July, I hope the words of Alva Belmont inspire you to show your solidarity with the girls and women right here in the US who don’t have freedoms you and I are fortunate enough to enjoy.

EDITORS NOTE: Readers may support the AHA Foundation, by clicking here.

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