Book review: ‘Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights’

6 April 2021

Carys Moseley reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book, Prey: Immigration, Islam and the Erosion of Women’s Rights (New York: Harper, 2020).

Renowned ex-Muslim author Ayaan Hirsi Ali says she wrote Prey because she was “curious to investigate why women were retreating from the public space in some neighborhoods” [p.7]. She suspected that this was happening because women were giving up the habit of going to public spaces to protect their own safety. Observing that this is how many women live in Muslim-majority countries, she asks how far the large number of men immigrating to Europe from these countries are imposing these norms onto women here.

The author’s credentials

Ali is well-placed to author a book on such a deeply unpleasant and controversial subject. She was born in Somalia and underwent FGM as well as forced marriage. She escaped and sought asylum in the Netherlands. There she worked as a translator in women’s refuges, where a disproportionate number of the women seeking help for domestic violence were Muslims. She was then elected to the Dutch Parliament as a member of the centre-right party. She faced serious death threats and then emigrated to the USA. She now runs her own charitable foundation, the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation, dedicated to helping women and girls.

The book is unflinching in its exposure of the data and information from courts and press, as well as research conducted by academics. Indeed this is one of the book’s biggest strengths, that it deliberately foregrounds the evidence in a manner that readers simply cannot avoid. She says that clarifying what has gone wrong in Europe is the only way to “make a truly credible case for effective integration of immigrants.” She is right when she says that “in the West, all things related to immigration and Islam are talked about with great difficulty, if they are talked about at all” [p. xiv].

Are public spaces still safe for women?

The first section of the book is entitled ‘The Unsafe Streets’. The author says that many women have come to feel that European cities are less safe now than when she first came in 1992. The reason is increased sexual violence against them in public spaces. What has happened is the increase in sexual offences by strangers, men disproportionately from Muslim-majority countries, against women. She refutes the conservative Islamist excuse that this is down to women not dressing ‘modestly’ (i.e. wearing veils or face-coverings), rightly pointing out that the mass sexual assault of German women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015 was an attack on fully clothed women. These men saw women as their prey. She is rightly unsparing in her condemnation of various governments for covering up the very fact of immigration-related sexual offences against women during the last seven years.

The book also rightly pinpoints the class situation of the offences under scrutiny – most crimes and misbehaviour against women by these men occurs in ‘low-income neighbourhoods’, i.e. working-class areas. Those who could afford to leave have done. This is extremely important and she should have made more of it. Here also lies the reason for why western feminists don’t look openly at the problems; their success has made them middle-class and white collar, which means they live in different neighbourhoods and are therefore now sheltered from this most basic erosion of women’s freedoms.

De facto Islamisation

Before tackling the Islamic dimension of sexual offences, Ali acknowledges that the threat of sexual violence was already a problem in European countries. Her book should not be taken as an excuse for not addressing this. She explains that her focus on some Muslim men’s attitudes to women is due to the sheer scale of Muslim migration to Europe, its likely continuation and the resulting growth of Europe’s Muslim population. She cites the figures of Pew Research Forum, which show that by 2050 the Muslim share of the population is projected to rise to between 7.4% and 14% [p. 97].

At the same time she addresses it because right-wing populist groups and parties address it in a manner that can lead to people demonising all Muslim immigrants and or provoke xenophobia.  Finally she says that “frank discussion also challenges the Islamists, who recognize the problem but propose a remedy that would set back all women.” She should have said plainly what that proposed remedy is but didn’t: absolute sex segregation and a tendency to confine women and girls to the home and women-only spaces.

The basic problem here is that mass Muslim immigration is effectively making this more likely for all women in European countries, not just Muslim women. The reason is that women in general may start to retreat from accessing public spaces even in daylight hours, out of fear for their own safety. Unfortunately Ali never manages to name this problem for what it is: de facto Islamisation. Indeed the only time she uses that term she puts it in scare quotes to dismiss it as if it were an embarrassing idea. This is a problem because western authorities are insecure, confused and cowardly in upholding the meaning and rule of law. They are far more concerned about accusations and legal threats for alleged racism and Islamophobia.

Is polygamy to blame?

Ali offers an explanation for the phenomenon of sexual offences by Muslim immigrant men against women who are strangers, namely the normative status of polygamy in Islam and Muslim countries. Polygamy is blamed for causing a scarcity of wives for men, who then become frustrated and have no real motive to be socialised and grow up. Authoritative Islamic texts allow men to sexually enslave non-Muslim women – hence the phenomenon of Muslim men migrating and sexually attacking and enslaving non-Muslim women. She devotes a whole chapter to so-called ‘grooming gangs’ in the UK, the most egregious example. However, at no point does she offer making monogamy normative in law and culture as part of the solution.

Ignoring monogamy is part of the book’s underlying weakness, namely never engaging with the Christian foundations of European law and policy. Undoubtedly there is a nervousness here as so often with ex-Muslim authors in the West. They are grateful for the freedoms gained, but dare not pronounce on how decadent and how unsure of themselves western countries have become as they have increasingly refused to look to Christian moral reasoning in formulating law and policy. The same flaw underlies the treatment of mass immigration.

Is mass male Muslim immigration deliberate Islamisation?

The author asks “why would men who have traveled thousands of miles for a better life behave this way toward women in their new country?” [p. 141]. The answer is clearly not simply biological sex differences, as these particular men are overrepresented in crime statistics. She cites social scientist Valerie Hudson, who calculated that the male/female sex ratio in Sweden by the end of 2015 was seriously skewed. For 16-17 year olds, there were 123 boys for every 100 girls [p. 142]. Such an imbalance seriously heightens the likelihood of sexual violence against women, including prostitution and forced marriage, as women become very scarce. This shows just how irresponsible European governments are to continue the policy of allowing mass immigration from Muslim countries. Even more importantly, Ali quotes German journalist Maria von Welser, who went to look for the equivalent women. She found them still in the refugee camps in middle eastern countries. Why?

The answer is that the families had decided to spend their money sending the sons ahead as they were the ‘strongest’, whereas the women would be risking “their honor” [pp. 142-143]. This says it all. Mass migration of Muslim men is not an accident, it is quite deliberately organised by Muslim families and is structured around preserving the honour of their Muslim women. Meanwhile, many women living in Europe (of all backgrounds) have become prey to many of their sons. Ali’s call for addressing the push factors in immigration to Europe ignores the Islamic dimension, focusing exclusively on security and economic issues in Muslim countries. By the same token, her recommendation on addressing why immigrants come to Europe is one-sided. Sam Solomon, a Christian convert from Islam, has written a book on mass Islamic migration as Islamisation,  ‘Al-Hijra: The Islamic Doctrine of Immigration’ which is helpful to read in relation to all this.

No acknowledgment of Christian-Muslim differences

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is quite typical of ex-Muslims in that she fears for the erosion of freedoms in the West. However the book does not show a very detailed engagement with the legal and policy systems of any particular country before the present. This is very important because the deliberate marginalisation of Christian moral reasoning as the framework for these is arguably a reason for the decline in safety for women.

For example, FGM is simply not a European Christian custom. Neither has honour-based violence been a European and Christian custom. The Bible never sanctions wife-beating – but the Qu’ran does (Surah 4: 34). Protestant casuistry from John Calvin and Martin Luther onwards developed a moral framework for permitting divorce. The question of whether countries’ legal systems adopted such reasoning has been another matter. Officially Christian countries have not always listened to Christian reformers. However nobody can seriously say that the moral framework for just and equitable treatment of domestic abuse victims is not there.

Then when we talk about rape and sexual assault – rape used to be a capital crime in officially Christian countries. Now it is treated trivially. She notes what British feminists have been saying recently, which is that rape is effectively becoming decriminalised. She does not say that murder of one’s own spouse until the mid-20th century was punishable by the death penalty. This showed just how seriously innocent human life was taken to be. Now the sentencing of men who rape and murder women is downright unpredictable.

Taboo employment problems

Given her experience as an elected politician Ali zeroes in at times on issues that have become taboo in public discourse. At one point she says that Dutch employers told her that immigrant Muslim men from Morocco were unemployable because they were arrogant towards female colleagues, would then get sacked, and would make threats or litigate [p. 190]. Overall in Europe more Muslim women than men are in the workforce. Unemployability is a taboo subject, which is exactly why she raises it. However such anecdote is not backed up by research. Perhaps the research itself would be taboo to conduct but it’s hard to tell.

This is a good example of where as British readers, we must be very careful to contextualise the book and acknowledge that there are serious limitations in its broad-brush approach. For it inevitably and rightly focuses on the worst case scenarios across Europe to issue a frank warning, yet there are real differences between Muslims across and within countries. Are Muslim men in different cities in the UK more likely than the rest of the population to be unemployed? The gap was quite narrow by the time of the 2011 Census.

We can illustrate this by looking at a few Prevent Priority Areas – areas designated by the Home Office as such due to increased risk of ‘radicalisation’. In Cardiff in 2011 on Census Day 8% of Muslim men aged 16 and over were unemployed (707 out of 8404) as opposed to 5% of men overall (7332 out of 137, 779). The comparable figures for Blackburn with Darwen were 7% (991 out of 13, 461) and 6%, (3503 out of 55, 972). For Manchester they were 7.85% (2248 out of 28, 627) and 6.61% (13, 422 out of 202, 803). (Office of National Statistics, 2011 Census. DC6205EW: Economic activity by religion by sex by age.) That said, these figures can only represent a snapshot in time, not a long-term perspective.

The trials of integration

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is damning about what she sees as the failure of ‘the integration industry’ in Europe. She surmises that whilst some involved are altruistic, others are cynical and would be ‘out of a job’ if integration were truly to succeed. As an example she cites the lack of quality control in many Dutch integration courses [p. 210]. This led to a reduction of 50% in how many immigrants passed the civil integration exam. The European Commission published this research in 2017.

Here, as elsewhere, an obvious question arises: is this ‘setup for failure’ caused by Islamist infiltration of the immigration system? The failure to ask questions about infiltration of key positions in European countries is a problem for the entire book. The author is obsessed with not pandering to populists by not advocating immigration restrictions. She also wants others like her to experience the same opportunities.

What is the answer?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali concludes that there will be “a meaningful rollback of women’s rights” within ten or twenty years if European governments continue ignoring the problems [p. 257]. She warns that women’s free and individual access to public spaces will be reduced. The tacit implication is that women’s participation in public life as free and equal citizens and human beings will be restricted. The restrictions will be felt not only by immigrant women but to a certain degree by all women, depending on where they live. This is by far the book’s strongest argument, and is entirely plausible. Indeed social scientists should conduct studies based on particular countries and areas within them to address the risks.

Ali makes six recommendations for a new approach to integration. She recommends an overhaul of the asylum system, the push and pull factors, police units to protect women and girls, listening to successful immigrants and providing sex education to all children. As hinted above, the lack of attention to Christian discourse on the topics in the book shows up here again. She seriously underestimates how fragile Western countries are due to dechristianisation, especially in terms of socialising children and teenagers to be responsible adults. She never addresses how internet porn has undoubtedly fuelled a rise in sexual offences by native Europeans, along with the bystander effect and the coverup mentality in relation to ‘grooming gangs’. It is sadly the case that Christians far from immune to the same temptations and failings, not to mention a tendency in some quarters to quiet denial and deflection.

So what does she propose as a remedy? She recommends relationships and sex education, to educate children and teenagers about their emotions, their bodies and that sex comes with responsibilities. She says that ‘young men and women need to be taught to respect each other’s physical boundaries’. However she does not frame any of this in terms of monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. Instead she commends a Canadian Muslim woman who promotes relationships and sex education for Muslims, who favours polygamy. Given Ali’s strong criticism of polygamy as the root of sexual crimes against women, this is a fatal weakness in her argument. Elsewhere in the book she had already been resigned to younger Muslims’ acceptance of polygamy.

Arguably, this shows that there must be a way for Christians who understand how European countries would benefit from a Christian approach to policymaking to meet halfway with immigrants whose conscience tells them Islamic approaches are unacceptable. This is part of Christian’ overall concern for the vulnerable, for the plight of immigrants fleeing dire situations, and for an approach to welcome and integration shaped by Christian values.



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