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Jewish Journal

Hirsi Ali, critic of Islam, honored for courage

by Tom Tugend

October 29, 2008 | 10:57 pm

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

A tall African-born woman, raised a devout Muslim but now one of Islam's sharpest critics, last week calmly dismantled some of the favorite shibboleths of American liberalism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was in town to accept an inaugural award for her remarkable personal and civic courage from Community Advocates, Inc., in front of some 600 Angelenos of various political stripes.

In an interview, and in parts of her remarks at the downtown Japan America Theatre, she questioned the virtues of multiculturalism, the West's understanding of Islam and its comprehension of the roots of terrorism.

Hirsi Ali, 38, was born in Somalia, was an ultra-devout Muslim during adolescence, but changed gradually, and then radically, when she found asylum in Holland in 1992.

She was elected to the lower house of the Dutch parliament in 2003 and became an international figure in 2004, after she wrote the screenplay for the short film "Submission," a barbed indictment of Islam's treatment of women.

That same year, the movie's director, Theo van Gogh, was assassinated on an Amsterdam street by a young Muslim, who pinned a death threat against Hirsi Ali to Van Gogh's chest.

She now lives under constant police protection in America and continues to write and speak out as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

In 2005, she made TIME's list of "100 of the World's Most Influential People."

Her categorical denunciations of Islam have been questioned, but never her personal mettle. It was for the latter characteristic that she was honored with the inaugural Ziegler Prize For Courage of Conviction by Community Advocates, Inc. (CAI) chairman and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, together with CAI President David Lehrer and Vice President Joe Hicks.

The accompanying citation reads: "In recognition of your indomitable courage and spirit, which teaches, offers hope and provides inspiration to humanity."

In her acceptance response and during her interview with The Journal, Hirsi Ali also faulted the West for its choice of weapons in fighting threats from Iran and Islamic militants.

"The United States has the option of using military force against Iran, which it may still have to do, or diplomacy, which has not worked so far," she said.

But the West has failed by not promoting its ideology in the "clash of ideas and values," Hirsi Ali declared.

"When Saudi Arabia spends $2 billion abroad for hospitals, mosques and schools, it conditions the aid on the recipient's acceptance of Saudi Arabia's fundamentalist form of Islam," she said. "But Western private and public philanthropy comes with no message, it's value free."

What the West must do, she urged, is to attach a clear message to its aid inculcating the values of individual responsibility, the equality of men and women and a scientific approach to counter tribal superstitions.

The West also fails to understand that there's little basic difference between Islamic "moderates" and "extremists," Hirsi Ali argued.

"When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, we may consider him crazy, but the concept that Jews are vermin is accepted throughout the Islamic world," she said. "In none of the 57 nations that make up the Organization of Islamic Countries is the Holocaust taught."

Hirsi Ali recalled, "I was raised in an educated family, and my father led the opposition to the Somali dictatorship, but I heard nothing about the Holocaust until I came to The Netherlands."

Another Western mistake lies in its admiration of multiculturalism and its exclusive focus on white racism, Hirsi Ali maintained.

"It is a fallacy that all cultures are equally valuable and must be preserved," she said. "Some cultures are superior to others. Some value human rights, while others justify the subjugation of women."

Along the same line, "While white racism is properly denounced, we're too shy to address black racism or Islamic racism."

CAI, headed by the white liberal Lerner and the black conservative Hicks, has made a name for itself by frequently challenging the accepted wisdom and strategies of mainstream civil rights and human relations groups.

In its writings and actions, CAI states, it seeks "to promote critical discourse about issues that transcend race, ethnicity, gender and religion."

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