Ayaan Hirsi Ali came to town last night. The audience was mostly women, as her talk was sponsored by a women's group as part of the tour for her book, Infidel. We gathered in an old church turned meeting hall. Her bodyguards flanked the stage. She entered quietly and we stood and applauded.
She spoke with grace and dignity, with flashes of wit and spirit. The genesis of the book was a post-Sept. 11th debate in the Netherlands on Islam vs. the West, held about a year after the attack. She was appalled that 5 of the 6 speakers baldly accused America of being under the control of the Jews and responsible for much of the violence in the world, and portrayed Muslims as victims and Islam as the source of civilization and peace. Ayaan spoke up, and was immediately besieged with questions. She felt the tribal culture longing for a utopia based on the Koran had failed and needed to allow self-reflection. She described herself then as a liberal Muslim. Now she describes herself as a classical liberal.
A woman publisher approached her to write a book about her experiences, to "give us an insight into a world that is closed to us". The publisher gave her books to read written by feminists, but Ayaan "didn't want to write a self-help book based on my life, I thought that was pathetic". She didn't agree with the premise of multiculturalism that was being pushed on her---"cultures are not equal, individuals are"---equality before the law, respect for individuals and private property, that was what was important. All this anti-white male talk seemed wrong to her, as it was white males in America, "the Great Satan" who enshrined in law the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She wrote her book for the 140 million women who have endured genital mutilation, to put a face on what was wrong with the culture she came from. After her talk, she graciously answered questions. I took her picture before she signed books.
Q. Had she read, While Europe Slept, and was the book accurate?
A. She had, and said it was, that the author had fled the US because fundamentalist people here wanted to deny him as a gay person the right to marry, but he realized that in Europe they wanted to kill him. As the book relates, there is a tendency toward anti-Americanism in Europe and appeasement of radical Islam, but she said more people are waking up.
Q.Why do Leftists ally themselves with jihadists?
A. They confuse faith with race. People on the Left fought for blacks, and present Islam as race, so those who criticize are called racists and Islamophobic, and they have grown up with multiculturalism which does not make judgements about culture, so they view all cultures as equal. She finds this very curious, to suggest that a culture which champions life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be viewed on the same level as a dogmatic culture incapable of self-reflection.
Q. How comfortable a home at a conservative think tank?
A. Very comfortable in the US. Democrats took her to AEI. AEI said they like to attract controversial scholars to advance debate, which she found very impressive, and they allow her the freedom to pursue her ideas.
Q. Why does Islam demand we convert? How do we prevent the practice in the US under Islam of beating women and treating them as inferior?
A. Need to make a distinction between Islam as a philosophy and Muslims. She does not believe Islam withstands the test of reason. It must reform. They demand rights! To beat women!! Europeans have taken the value of freedom very much for granted. They see the Muslims as the new Jews. They don't want to make the mistakes their fathers did in WWII, but the demands are all one-sided, intolerant, and take away individual freedom.
Q. Why does the press hide the truth during the cartoon riots and other riots, calling rioters immigrants and not Islamists?
A. Yes, this is very disturbing. But in The Netherlands, and even in France, the greatest appeaser, they republished the Danish cartoons. Yet they were NOT published in the UK and the US. There is an element of accommodation and fear in the US, with one difference---in Europe people look to the government for leadership---Americans seem to organize themselves to defend freedom of speech.
Q. Why don't we hear from American Muslims to renounce these acts of violence?
A. There are some, but so few we know them all by name: Irshad Manji, Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish, and Salman Rushdie in the UK. They are afraid if they speak up they will risk their lives and those of their families. She herself has bodyguards. That is the physical fear. The other is psychological---if you disagree with Allah, with the Koran, if you don't want to kill infidels, you risk hell. There must be a generally accepted move toward less literal interpretations of the Koran, but there is a large group of believers in jihad being paid by the Saudi government to spread jihad. (many US mosques are financed by this extreme Wahhabi sect). And if you as a moderate Muslim oppose this extreme view you are labeled infidel, Islamophobic, racist, and the argument is shut down, because some of these extremists as we know believe in using violence.
Q. (A woman got up and described herself as an American Muslim woman, a feminist and a professor. She made a rambling accusation about you people and your remarks condemning all Muslims and doesn't it bother you that you are harming the image of Islam, and that the West has had slavery and that she has suffered discrimination in this country as a Muslim, and Americans and Christians are Islamophobic.) A woman got up from the audience and said in response---they are not blowing up women and children!
A. Hirsi Ali said I would like to ask you---why doesn't it bother you that 140 million Muslim women have suffered genital mutilation, that many suffer honor killings, get little or no education and in some countries as many as 80% are raped (I think I heard that right). And if you want to protect the image of Islam, then the first step is to acknowledge what is wrong with Islam. Killing infidels, beheading cartoonists, while holding the Koran---not one Muslim stands up and says---this is not my faith! I am not making excuses for the West, but it is a culture of self-reflection.
Q. What next?
A. She is working on another book, a scholarly work. The prophet Mohammad wakes up in the NY Public Library and has a conversation with John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek, and Colin Powell.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
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