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Somali-born human rights activist, author and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali will speak on human rights abuses concentrated in the Middle East and West Africa at the Granada Theater on May 23.

Ali has written multiple best-sellers and has been named a Harvard University fellow and one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” She is also set to receive the Bradley Prize at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.

Growing up in Somalia, Ali experienced and witnessed various human rights abuses. Facing an arranged marriage, she fled to the Netherlands where she completed a graduate degree and became a Member of Parliament.

The event is being organized by a small group of Santa Barbara community members, including Santa Barbara resident Sheridan Rosenberg and UCSB physics professor Philip Lubin.

There are issues going on in the world that are really worthy of a discussion. I think she speaks to that with more eloquence than anyone. – Santa Barbara community member Sheridan Rosenberg

Lubin said Ali will offer students an important message on how women are treated in other parts of the world.

“She represents a voice that is particularly important for me that speaks to the subjugation and oppression of women,” Lubin said.

Rosenberg said Ali will use her personal experience to shed light on important human rights issues.

“There are issues going on in the world that are really worthy of a discussion,” Rosenberg said. “I think she speaks to that with more eloquence than anyone.”

Feminist studies and global studies double major Claire Breen said Ali’s personal story will offer a more accurate perspective on issues in the Middle East and West Africa.

“Hearing Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak is a really valuable opportunity because a lot of the conversation surrounding honor killings and female genital mutilation are coming from a western, often skewed perspective,” Breen said.

Lubin said students should recognize the significance of the opportunity to hear Ali lecture.

“This is an opportunity to expand your horizons significantly near a person that literally puts her life on the line to express her views,” Lubin said.

Lubin said Ali‘s being on Al Queda’s “Most Wanted” list indicates the significance of her activism.

“When you understand why it’s so important to silence her, you understand why it’s so important to listen to her,” Lubin said. “I believe that students really need to open their eyes and begin to see the world.”

This is not a religious issue. This is a discussion of human rights. And women are humans, and therefore they have rights. – UCSB physics professor Philip Lubin

According to Lubin, Ali will offer insight on the relationship between religion and human rights abuses because she was raised Muslim, but now identifies as atheist.

Lubin also said Ali’s talk will focus primarily on issues of human rights, rather than religion.

“This is not a religious issue,” Lubin said. “This is a discussion of human rights. And women are humans, and therefore they have rights.”

Ali’s story can inform students about the frequency of female genital mutilation, which has affected more than 100 million girls and women alive today, according to Lubin.

“The prevalence of this is so high in certain countries” Lubin said. “Women should be horrified by this, and they’re not, because most have no idea what’s going on.”

According to Rosenberg, Ali’s personal story and character will add depth to the greater issues she will discuss.
“I think she is a very interesting person,” Rosenberg said. “She is poised, and she’s dignified and she’s brilliant.”

Further information and tickets are available on the Granada Theater website. Students can purchase discounted tickets for $14 using the promotional code “student.”

A version of this story appeared in the May 7, 2015 issue of the Daily Nexus.