January Series 2009: Refusing to be silenced January 28, 2009
Last year at a conference, Ayaan Hirsi Ali proposed to a German newspaper editor that the principles of democracy should be clearly defined for immigrants to European countries. She shared his answer with the audience at her January Series lecture on January 23: ‘What does it mean to be German? Do you want us to tell immigrants that becoming a citizen is conditional to drinking beer and eating sausages?’
Following the laughter of the capacity Fine Arts Center crowd, Hirsi Ali added, “And this is the mentality of some of the leading Europeans.”
She has heard similar answers (featuring different menu items) from Dutch and French critics. The native of Somalia, onetime Dutch citizen and author of Infidel is the target of Islamic fundamentalists because of her outspokenness against the violence perpetrated on Islamic women. Hirsi Ali defined the journalist’s rebuttal as a species of “moral relativism”:
"At first I was amused with this trivialization of citizenship,” she said, “but now I am concerned that Europeans have lost sense of what it is to be democracies and why democratic values should be defended.”
In America, she argued, those values as embodied in the U.S. Constitution—the rule of law, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of the press—keep extremist groups from gaining substantial power in society.
"Ever since the establishment of the United States, individuals and groups have tried to ignore it, to amend it, to give themselves an exceptional place in society, but they were never allowed,” Hirsi Ali said of the Constitution. “And to this day in America you can think what you like and say what you like with impunity—and I think that is a great achievement.”
However, she warned moral relativism combined with Islamic fascism creates a “new and insidious enemy” to that freedom in both Europe and America. While Western organizations and publications are free to criticize other extremist groups, said Hirsi Ali, radical Islam is allowed to operate virtually unchecked: “If Muslims are not offended, then the problem will go away,” she defined the attitude. “This creates an opportunity for the agents of radical Islam to promote their own intolerance.”
A radical threat
Radical Islam spreads, she said, when imams and mullahs infiltrate impoverished European immigrant communities, seeking to alienate them from the larger societies of which they are a part: "They seek to segregate these communities, and in their isolation indoctrinate them with seeking the Utopia of global Islamic dominance,” she said, a process she called a “creeping Shari’a-zation.”
The unwillingness of European politicians to criticize the teachings and practices of radical Islam gives that movement freedom to grow, Hirsi Ali said: “Radical Muslim organizations in the West develop their ideas, publish them and preach them openly. They have schools and mosques and charities. They have public relations bureaus, and they enjoy legal aid. They peddle their ideology of intolerance, of us-versus-them, of Jewish hatred, of misogyny in the name of religion and in the name of a religious minority.”
The dangers of speaking out
The moral relativism that silences European society makes European critics of radical Islam vulnerable to censorship or other repressive tactics. Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who currently faces prosecution for his harsh criticism of radical Islam, is an example of this repression, Hirsi Ali said: “I do not agree with everything he says … But it doesn’t matter whether I agree or disagree. Everything Mr. Wilders says or does in public about Islam, he does so by adhering to the conditions of democracy.”
Some of Wilders’s Islamic critics, she said, resort to threats of violence and death: “Because of this persistent minority, Mr. Wilders is under police protection 24 hours a day, and he has been so for the last four years. And I condemn that with everything in me.”
Hirsi Ali knows what it is to be threatened by the forces of radical Islam and to require around-the-clock security. The former member of The Dutch Parliament has spent years raising awareness of the dangers of that movement and spotlighting its violent practices including honor killings and female circumcision. In 2004, she collaborated with filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on Submission, a film about Islamic brutality toward women. That year, Van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death by a Muslim fundamentalist .The murderer left a death threat addressed to Hirsi Ali pinned to Van Gogh’s chest.
Hirsi Ali also criticized President Bush’s statement describing Islam as a religion of peace in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. European leaders imitated Bush’s response, she said: “The strategy of the Western leaders was understandable at the time. Only a small group of perpetrators had committed the horrible acts of terrorism. It would be immoral and impractical to suggest that 1.2 billion Muslims in the world are potential terrorists. It would be wrong to persecute Muslims because of the acts of a handful of men … But to call Islam 'peace' was to ignore the basic principles of that doctrine.”
Continuing to speak out
She gave her reason for continuing to speak out against radical Islam in the form of a quote from British philosopher and politician John Stuart Mill, that says in part, “The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
She concluded: “I was born in an un-free world, and for the first 22 years of my life, I was such a miserable creature. I go on to speak out and risk my life because anything is better than that state of decay and degradation that Mill rightly despised.” Following the half-hour lecture, she took audience questions on subjects such as the French ban on veils in schools and birth rates in Europe.
Meredith Donnelly, a Calvin sophomore studying studio, was impressed with Hirsi Alli. “I thought she was very intelligent and gracious to the different views that have been expressed,” Donnelly said. “Two of my friends read her book. It has sparked a discussion.”
~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing