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Australia

Sep 26, 2014

As the Prime Minister’s national briefings on terrorism warn us to be alert and, when you think about it, actually pretty bloody alarmed, The Daily Telegraph reported that “firebrand radical convert” Yvonne Ridley was set to headline a conference run by an “Islamic group linked to extremists”.

Ridley is one of the international speakers who are scheduled to speak at the 2014 “Crossroads” conference, held by Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah.

Last night I was invited to join Ridley as she addressed a class of women and girls at an Islamic youth centre in Roxburgh Park. A talented speaker, she drew gasps and laughter with her well-polished account of her post-9/11 adventures in Afghanistan and subsequent conversion to Islam, all told in a warm, earthy northern English style.

As a journalist for the Sunday Express, Ridley had crossed the border from Pakistan under the cover of a burqa (“like the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter”), only to be arrested during her departure when her donkey bolted and her camera tumbled out from beneath the invisibility cloak. According to Ridley, her first thought on being detained by a young Taliban member was: “My goodness, you are gorgeous!” The most amazing green eyes, like the girl in that famous National Geographic story — and the cheekbones …

Ridley spent the next 10 days being detained by “the regime which George and Tony had told us was the most brutal regime in the world” — which Ridley assured her spellbound audience was no such thing. After she went on a hunger strike to demand access to a phone, their cook begged her with tears in his eyes to eat the stew he had carefully prepared for her. She was so well treated, in fact, that on being released at the border with Pakistan, she wanted to turn back to apologise for her own rude and obnoxious behaviour. She has since worked for a range of Islamic media outlets and become an in-demand speaker at Muslim events around the globe.

Over coffee after the class, Ridley had some pungent remarks about current Australian political discourse, and in particular Jacqui Lambie’s call to ban the burqa.

“I don’t often criticise women, but she epitomises the term ‘daft bint’. She’s either incredibly ignorant or politically stupid, and I’m not sure which. What I would suggest to her is stop digging and apologise, pet, and do it quickly.”

Ridley claims that she has never yet met a niqabi who’s been forced to wear the veil. “And if there are men out there who force their wives to wear the niqab in public, then by banning it they’ve confined them to the house. If these women exist, then the niqab gave them the freedom to get out of the house.”

She also speculates the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy banned the face-veil as a way of dealing with the modelling career of his wife, Carla Bruni.

“Any schoolboy, anyone in the world who wants to see what Sarkozy’s wife looks like without her clothes on, can just go on the internet and look at her from any angle. And I think that this psychologically damaged Sarkozy and that’s why he banned the niqab. In his own mind, people were judging him, saying, ‘yeah, we can see your wife, but there’s no way that you’re going to see mine’. So ripping of the niqab was just a little way of dealing with that.”

Ridley also says that the French and Italian burqa bans have proved an economic godsend to Britain, with London replacing Paris and Milan as the favoured shopping destination for wealthy Arab women. “These women, they see a handbag for 4000 pounds and they’ll buy 10, one in every colour. It’s not because Britain’s a more humanitarian place to live, it’s because they’ve got capitalism down to a fine art. And that’s why they’ll never ban the niqab.” The short-sighted French, on the other hand, “have destroyed one of their most lucrative shopping avenues just by banning the niqab”.

Ridley’s address provided her audience with an unexpectedly light note during what has been an extremely difficult week for Muslims living in Australia. I will be tuning in to her further escapades Down Under and around the world  — as well as their tabloid coverage …

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20 comments

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20 thoughts on “An evening with Yvonne Ridley, ‘firebrand radical convert’

  1. mikeb

    “Ridley claims that she has never yet met a niqabi who’s been forced to wear the veil. “And if there are men out there who force their wives to wear the niqab in public, then by banning it they’ve confined them to the house. If these women exist, then the niqab gave them the freedom to get out of the house.”

    My goodness. Talk about adding a silver lining. Under the Taliban Afghanistan is going to be paradise on Earth for women.

  2. Jeff Richards

    Why do Sunnis keep parading themselves as the representatives of all Muslims? They are not, yet the Sunnis and the media keep identifying Sunni views as the only available voice in Islam.

  3. Mark out West

    Malala, the school girl shot by the taliban for wanting an education
    http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2013/s3869644.htm

    Opium Brides Multi-award-winning reporter Najibullah Quraishi journeys deep into the Afghan countryside to reveal the personal and social devastation the eradication program is causing. He shows how the Taliban protects and encourages heroin smugglers to finance opium growing, in return for a cut of the profits.

    http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2012/07/12/3544562.htm

    This trite article does nothing to encourage understanding with the this blithe discourse.

  4. Malcolm Grant

    I am forced to use an actual Australian colloquialism in response to Yvonne Ridley’s use of the very English expression ‘daft bint’ when referring to Senator Lambie.

    Ms Ridley was talking complete bollocks when she speculated on the reasons for the banning of the face covering niqab by President Sarkozy as being a way of dealing with the modelling career of his wife, Carla Bruni.

    Her justification is based on the most appallingly badly stated pop psychology and seeks to demonise Sarkozy as a petty man intent on punishing French Muslim women in some sort of act of retaliation because his wife had posed nude a few times.

    “Any schoolboy, anyone in the world who wants to see what Sarkozy’s wife looks like without her clothes on, can just go on the internet and look at her from any angle. And I think that this psychologically damaged Sarkozy and that’s why he banned the niqab. In his own mind, people were judging him, saying, ‘yeah, we can see your wife, but there’s no way that you’re going to see mine’. So ripping of the niqab was just a little way of dealing with that.”

    Pull the other one Yvonne, it’s got bells on it and it plays La Marseillaise.

  5. Salamander

    Shame she went feral on the pop psych. Sounded a bit plausible before that. People can always get quoted out of context, of course. Depends what the question was!

  6. Harry Held

    One of the most self serving pieces of reportage I have read justifying the oppression of a Muslim women.I too have travelled in the Muslim world and found many of the people I met unfailingly generous and welcoming to me, but to suggest women, without exception, relish the wearing of the full burqa is quite insulting to those women who are locked up in these tents, while their husbands waltz along in fashionable jeans, tee shirts and runners.

  7. Danno

    Yes, the Taliban treat their women folk so well. And as for that rant about Sarkozy – talk about ‘incredibly ignorant’!

  8. WILHELMUS BREIKERS

    Out of the 17 speakers at the Crossroads conference 1 is a woman. I suspect that even the Christians could muster a more evenly weighted gender balance than that.

  9. old greybeard

    I have never seen a problem with head scarves and I don’t particularly like niquabs and hijabs, but I am not offended by them as such. these women are living in what many of them see as modest way and I reckon we could all do with some of that at times. They have a smile, a frown, a personality. Did we say nuns should take off their veil. Did we tell the Slavs not to wear scarves? The burqa does offend me. It removes all of those things. I cannot enter a bank with my face hidden. In terms of general grasp of the world the senator and the columnist seem about equal. One thing though. Compare the regime of the Taliban to the reign of the Mujaheddin warlords they supplanted. I don’t think good and evil are so easy to separate here.

  10. Salamander

    @WB ….But not the Australian Government.