In a long interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Rogier van Bakel of Reason Magazine brought out her best with some excellent questions. Ali was raised as a Muslim in Somalia, and has since become an outspoken atheist who is now marked for death by Islamic fundamentalists. She is sharp and bold and straightforward. I am excerpting parts the article here. If you have the time, it will be worth it to read the whole article: "The Trouble Is The West."
Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?
Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.
Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?
Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.
Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.
Reason: Are we really heading toward anything so ominous?
Hirsi Ali: I think that’s where we’re heading. We’re heading there because the West has been in denial for a long time. It did not respond to the signals that were smaller and easier to take care of. Now we have some choices to make. This is a dilemma: Western civilization is a celebration of life—everybody’s life, even your enemy’s life. So how can you be true to that morality and at the same time defend yourself against a very powerful enemy that seeks to destroy you?
Reason: George Bush, not the most conciliatory person in the world, has said on plenty of occasions that we are not at war with Islam.
Hirsi Ali: If the most powerful man in the West talks like that, then, without intending to, he’s making radical Muslims think they’ve already won. There is no moderate Islam. There are Muslims who are passive, who don’t all follow the rules of Islam, but there’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it.
Hirsi Ali: We have to get serious about this. The Egyptian dictatorship would not allow many radical imams to preach in Cairo, but they’re free to preach in giant mosques in London. Why do we allow it?
Reason: You’re in favor of civil liberties, but applied selectively?
Hirsi Ali: No. Asking whether radical preachers ought to be allowed to operate is not hostile to the idea of civil liberties; it’s an attempt to save civil liberties. A nation like this one is based on civil liberties, and we shouldn’t allow any serious threat to them. So Muslim schools in the West, some of which are institutions of fascism that teach innocent kids that Jews are pigs and monkeys — I would say in order to preserve civil liberties, don’t allow such schools.
Reason: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit system for Islamic schools, correct?
Hirsi Ali: I wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to have them all closed, but my party said it wouldn’t fly. Top people in the party privately expressed that they agreed with me, but said, “We won’t get a majority to do that,” so it never went anywhere.
Reason: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, which guarantees that religious movements may teach children in religious schools and says the government must pay for this if minimum standards are met. So it couldn’t be done. Would you in fact advocate that again?
Hirsi Ali: Oh, yeah.
Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—
Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle. I've been saying this in Australia and in the U.K. and so on, and I get exactly the same arguments: The Constitution doesn’t allow it. But we need to ask where these constitutions came from to start with — what’s the history of Article 23 in the Netherlands, for instance? There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written. There were no jihadists. They had no idea.
Reason: Do you believe that the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights — documents from more than 200 ago — ought to change?
Hirsi Ali: They’re not infallible. These Western constitutions are products of the Enlightenment. They’re products of reason, and reason dictates that you can only progress when you can analyze the circumstances and act accordingly. So now that we live under different conditions, the threat is different. Constitutions can be adapted, and they are, sometimes. The American Constitution has been amended a number of times. With the Dutch Constitution, I think the latest adaptation was in 1989. Constitutions are not like the Koran — non-negotiable, never-changing.
Look, in a democracy, it’s like this: I suggest, “Let’s close Muslim schools.” You say, “No, we can’t do it.” The problem that I’m pointing out to you gets bigger and bigger. Then you say, “OK, let’s somehow discourage them,” and still the problem keeps on growing, and in another few years it gets so bad that I belatedly get what I wanted in the first place.
I respect that it needs to happen this way, but there’s a price for the fact that you and I didn’t share these insights earlier, and the longer we wait, the higher the price. In itself the whole process is not a bad thing. People and communities and societies learn through experience. The drawback is, in this case, that “let’s learn from experience” means other people’s lives will be taken.
Reason: Samir Azouz, another young man in Holland convicted of terrorist plotting, attended a fundamentalist Muslim school in Amsterdam which is still open. He had maps of the Dutch parliament. He wanted to kill me and other politicians. He wanted to cause murder and mayhem congruent with the set of beliefs that he was taught in school using Dutch taxpayers’ money. Now go back in time a little. Isn’t it extremely cruel when you put yourself in the shoes of that little boy? He was just going to an officially recognized school in a multicultural society. Everyone approved — and now he’s being punished for it. He’s in jail.
Reason: Having lived in the United States for about a year now, do you find that Muslims in the United States have by and large integrated better here than they have in Europe?
Hirsi Ali: Since I moved here, I’ve spent most of my time in airports, in airplanes, in waiting rooms, in hotels, doing promotion for Infidel all over the world, so the amount of time I’ve actually lived in the U.S. is very small. But yes, I have the impression that Muslims in the United States are far more integrated than Muslims in Europe. Of course, being assimilated doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be a jihadist, but the likelihood of Muslims turning radical here seems lower than in Europe.
For one thing, America doesn’t really have a welfare system. Mohammed Bouyeri had all day long to plot the murder of Theo van Gogh. American Muslims have to get a job. What pushes people who come to America to assimilate is that it’s expected of them. And people are not mollycoddled by the government.
There’s a lot of white guilt in America, but it’s directed toward black Americans and native Indians, not toward Muslims and other immigrants. People come from China, Vietnam, and all kinds of Muslim countries. To the average American, they’re all fellow immigrants.
The white guilt in Germany and Holland and the U.K. is very different. It has to do with colonialism. It has to do with Dutch emigrants having spread apartheid in South Africa. It has to do with the Holocaust. So the mind-set toward immigrants in Europe is far more complex than here. Europeans are more reticent about saying no to immigrants.
And by and large, Muslim immigrants in Europe do not come with the intention to assimilate. They come with the intention to work, earn some money, and go back. That’s how the first wave of immigrants in the Netherlands was perceived: They would just come to work and then they’d go away. The newer generations that have followed are coming not so much to work and more to reap the benefits of the welfare state. Again, assimilation is not really on their minds.
Also, in order to get official status here in the U.S., you have to have an employer, so it’s the employable who are coming. The Arabs who live here came as businessmen, and a lot of them come from wealthy backgrounds. There are also large communities of Indian and Pakistani Muslims, who tend to be very liberal. Compare that to the Turks in Germany, who mostly come from the poor villages of Anatolia. Or compare it to the Moroccans in the Netherlands, who are for the most part Berbers with a similar socio-economic background. It’s a completely different set of people.
And finally, there’s the matter of borders. In America, Muslim immigrants typically pass through an airport, which means the Americans have a better way of controlling who comes in — a far cry from Europe’s open borders. Forty years ago, when Europe began talking about lifting borders between countries to facilitate the free traffic of goods and labor, they weren’t thinking about waves of immigrants. They thought of Europe as a place people left. America, on the other hand, has always been an immigration nation, with border controls that have been in place for a long time. I know the southern border is difficult to monitor, but for Arab Muslims and Pakistanis coming to America, it’s very hard to enter illegally.
Reason: Tolerance is probably the most powerful word there is in the Netherlands. No other word encapsulates better what the Dutch believe really defines them. That makes it very easy for people to say that when they’re being criticized, they’re not being tolerated — and from there it’s only a small step to saying they’re being discriminated against or they’re the victims of Islamophobia or racism or what have you.
Hirsi Ali: We have to revert to the original meaning of the term tolerance. It meant you agreed to disagree without violence. It meant critical self-reflection. It meant not tolerating the intolerant. It also came to mean a very high level of personal freedom.
Then the Muslims arrived, and they hadn’t grown up with that understanding of tolerance. In short order, tolerance was now defined by multiculturalism, the idea that all cultures and religions are equal. Expectations were created among the Muslim population. They were told they could preserve their own culture, their own religion. The vocabulary was quickly established that if you criticize someone of color, you’re a racist, and if you criticize Islam, you’re an Islamophobe.
Reason: The international corollary to the word tolerance is probably respect. The alleged lack of respect has become a perennial sore spot in relations between the West and Islam. Salman Rushdie receiving a British knighthood supposedly signified such a lack of respect, as did the Danish cartoons last year, and many other things. Do you believe this is what Muslims genuinely crave—respect?
Hirsi Ali: It’s not about respect. It’s about power, and Islam is a political movement.
Reason: Uniquely so?
Hirsi Ali: Well, it hasn’t been tamed like Christianity. See, the Christian powers have accepted the separation of the worldly and the divine. We don’t interfere with their religion, and they don’t interfere with the state. That hasn’t happened in Islam.
But I don’t even think that the trouble is Islam. The trouble is the West, because in the West there’s this notion that we are invincible and that everyone will modernize anyway, and that what we are seeing now in Muslim countries is a craving for respect. Or it’s poverty, or it’s caused by colonization.
The Western mind-set — that if we respect them, they’re going to respect us, that if we indulge and appease and condone and so on, the problem will go away — is delusional. The problem is not going to go away. Confront it, or it’s only going to get bigger.
Read the whole interview: The Trouble Is The West
Read a speech by Nonie Darwish, a woman who grew up as a Muslim in Gaza and Egypt.
Learn more about Islam: The Terrifying Brilliance of the Islamic Memeplex