Re: West challenged by one of its own




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West challenged by one of its own
TheStar.com - living - West challenged by one of its own

Outspoken convert to Islam says she's still a feminist, but critics can't
see past the hijab

RON CSILLAG
special to the star

Once a hard-nosed, hard-drinking Fleet Street reporter, Yvonne Ridley
today is a proud, pious and unapologetic Muslim. Islam is "the biggest and
best family in the world," she says, but deeply misunderstood.

The 48-year-old London-based journalist and political activist brought her
campaign against the West and its war on terror to Canada this month,
visiting Toronto, Waterloo and Montreal to speak at fundraising dinners
for the Canadian Islamic Congress.

"I've always been a fighter for women's rights. I still am. I'm still a
feminist, except now I would say I'm an Islamic feminist. I have been
supporting the Palestinian cause for three decades now. That hasn't
changed. What has changed are people's perceptions of me.

"As soon as I put on a hijab, it was like, `Oh my God, she's a radical.
She an exremist.' And suddenly, I moved from being a journalist to a
Muslim activist."

But her visit here inflamed critics. B'nai Brith Canada, protesting she's
a "terrorist sympathizer" whose views are "extremist and dangerous,"
called for her talks to be monitored by police.

Ridley has been called an Islamist dupe and an apologist for terrorism.
Remarks attributed to her include a reference to Jewish critics as "those
nauseating little Zionists who accuse me of being an anti-Semite" and a
characterization of London cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is serving a
seven-year prison sentence for soliciting murder and inciting racial
hatred, as "quite sweet, really."

Asked prior to her Toronto talk to comment, she denies nothing. Those
reported remarks "are regurgitated by people who have an agenda against
me," she tells the Star.

Yes, she called al-Masri sweet, but "that was part of a one-hour,
20-minute talk in which he was featured for about 30 seconds."

She was quoted "totally out of context," she says.

"It would be like you looking at Hitler and saying, `Apparently, he was a
very gifted artist and I looked at his work and it moved me.' The next
thing you know, you pick up the paper and somebody is saying, `Oh God,
that man said Hitler was gifted and he was moved by him.'"

Ridley blames journalists, always out for a juicy sound bite.

"This is the trouble with the media. I'm not having a go at you," she
says, "but you do try and simplify issues....If you tell me what story
you've been told to get and what headline you need, then I'll try and help
you."

Would she characterize a Muslim who calls for violence as un-Islamic or
radical? "Historically," Ridley points out, "violence has worked."

The Irish Republican Army "bombed their way to the negotiating table."

And the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel by the Irgun, pre-state
Israel's Jewish militia, was "a defining moment in the British army's
desire to get the hell out of Jerusalem."

There's no difference, Ridley says, "between a suicide bomber and a
Stealth bomber because they both kill innocent people. And the death of
innocent people is always to be condemned."

Ridley's extraordinary journey to her present activism began just after
the 9/11 attacks when, as a reporter for Britain's Daily Express (which
calls itself "The World's Greatest Newspaper"), she donned a burqa and
sneaked into Afghanistan to cover the war on terror.

At the time, she was an Anglican who attended church about twice a month,
"which in Britain, is regarded as fanatical." She had a knowledge of Islam
"you could probably write on the back of a postage stamp, and it was
incorrect."

Her assignment finished, she was making her way out of Afghanistan when
the Taliban discovered she had camera tucked beneath her robes. Held and
interrogated for 10 days in Jalalabad and Kabul, she was released after
promising her captors that she would read the

Qur'an. She kept her word and read the Qur'an. In 2003, she converted to
Islam.

Ridley, who wears a black hijab and jilbab, or floor-length cloak, prays
fives daily, eschews alcohol, and bristles at suggestions she represents a
textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological condition in which
the captive empathizes with her captor.

"That comes from people who cannot accept that a Western woman has
rejected what they see as Western values (in order) to embrace Islam," she
says.

The Taliban have been "demonized beyond recognition, because you can't
drop bombs on nice people."

But "I did not bond with my captors," she says. "I spat at them. I swore
at them. I threw things at them. I was aggressive. I was rude (and)
obnoxious. I was the prisoner from hell."

But what about her conversion? Has she compromised her journalistic
objectivity by embracing the philosophy of her captors?

"I didn't embrace the philosophy of my captors," is the crisp reply. "My
captors were the Taliban, and (they) have a very specific type of
doctrine. And I didn't embrace that.

"I embraced Islam. I embraced what I consider to be pure Islam."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ron Csillag is a freelance writer. Email:

http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/260456

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