Six years after September 11, 2001 the majority of Muslims living in the West still dread this date. They feel a mixture of sadness and frustration. What about you?
It is a terrible day in history and I think it affected everyone and continues to do so today. But I don’t think Muslims should feel — or more importantly, be made to feel — guilty or responsible in anyway, about what happened that day. It is like demanding every Jewish person feels guilt for the continuing injustices against Palestinians, or holding every man to account for every single rape against a woman.
After you converted to Islam, the BBC News Online wrote; “it has been suggested [she] is a victim of Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages take the side of the hostage-takers.” Is this a valid assessment?
The Stockholm Syndrome thing always makes me laugh. I was the prisoner from hell. I spat, swore, threw things at my captors and even went on hunger strike. To suffer from SS you have to bond with your jailers in the first place. The only people I bonded with, and still keep in touch with to this day, were the other western prisoners. The syndrome thing is used by detractors and those who cannot explain why a professional western woman would embrace Islam.
Some converts (or reverts) to Islam or other faiths do it privately, quietly. You chose to be very public; why?
I actually did do it quietly. Check the newspapers around the time of July 2003 when I converted. This is yet another urban myth.
You are quoted as saying, “my faith is my nationality and when you attack it you are being racist.” Can you explain further?
What I am saying is nothing different to the views held by committed Christians and Jews. If you attack a nationality, you are being racist. You cannot attack someone for being an Indian, or Pakistani, or Chinese, Jamaican etc.
At a time when some Muslim women choose not to wear a hijab to avoid hostility and/or compromise their careers — an option endorsed by some Islamic scholars — you now thoroughly cover your hair with a very opaque headdress. Why? Is this preferable to wearing a hat, for example? Do you thrive on the challenge of being visually identified as a Muslim?
Wearing the hijab is an obligation under Islam. It is a requirement and is stated quite clearly in references in our Holy Qur’an. This is something I’ve looked into exhaustively and spoken at length with real scholars and sheikhs whose background, lineage and education cannot be disputed. I did not wear the hijab immediately; it took some time and I believe every committed Muslimah will get there in the end. These Islamic scholars you talk about cannot justify the hijab as an option. There are those who I call “scholars for dollars” who do push certain government lines. They know who they are and they know what they are saying is wrong. Having said that, I think a sister’s decision to wear the hijab is personal — she knows her responsibilities to God and will personally have to answer for her actions one day.
During your campaign as a candidate for the Respect Party, you presented a six-point plan for your constituency, which included the advancement of women. What did you intend to do for women?
I just want women, all women regardless of faith, culture or background, to know their rights and demand them. The only way they can do this is through education and, as Islam states quite clearly, education is vitally important. There are even Islamic references that if you can’t get knowledge at home then go out and seek it.
Did anyone tell you that the issue of women’s advancement conflicted with the perception they have of women in Islam (i.e. being submissive, etc.)
They only tell me once. I put them right and they don’t come back!
You have been very outspoken about the treatment of Muslims in Britain. Let’s compare notes. What is it that you deplore and denounce?
There are many characteristics I deplore and it is not just in Muslims. I deplore cowardice, I deplore men who bully women, I deplore men who use and abuse women. I deplore those who use and manipulate their faith. I get outraged at men who tell me I cannot go and pray in a mosque because it is men-only. And it still kills me inside when I think of the mosque committee in Blackburn UK, which forbids Muslim women from praying inside its mosque, yet were prepared to roll out the red carpet for Condoleezza Rice.
On June 7, 2006, The Daily Telegraph, reported: “Yvonne Ridley, the former journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban, has said that Muslims in east London should stop co-operating with the police after last week’s terror raid in which a man was shot.” Please explain your position?
Interesting how I was called a “former journalist.” It was as though they were trying to isolate me. What I said was taken out of context. I knew those two young men who were arrested – one shot – were totally innocent of any wrongdoing. What I said was that the community should stop co-operating with the police until they were released. Interestingly enough, I was vindicated some months ago when the Metropolitan Police was forced to apologize to the two brothers, including the one who was shot in his own home by armed anti-terror officers. I am not an anarchist and the police do have a role to play, but this does not give them the right to tear into Muslim communities, tooled up and armed with misinformation. This particular force is still suffering from institutionalized racism and is deeply homophobic. Senior officers publicly invited me to contact them during a Radio 4 broadcast and when I did they failed to return my calls. It was weasel words for the benefit of spin and public image.
You said that the UK is the third most-hated country. Your sharp criticism of your government has lead some to suggest, “If you hate your country so much, why don’t you leave?” How do you respond to them?
Again this is being taken out of context. But, at the end of the day, I enjoy free speech in Britain so why shouldn’t I say what I want? Why am I suddenly being denied the right to exercise my right to freedom of speech? I love my country and I would not get so upset about its reputation abroad if I didn’t.
Britain’s new PM Gordon Brown prepares to depart from Iraq but to move even more heavily into Afghanistan. Your comments? How are Islamic organizations in the UK reacting to that announcement?
Gordon Brown is the man who signed the cheques for the war in Iraq — let’s wait and see on that score. On Afghanistan, we need to throw financial aid and help to the Afghan people, not arm soldiers and send them in to their deaths, which is what is happening. The British Army has never yet had a successful campaign in Afghanistan over the years.