A revealing conversation between Sam Harris and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In April, Brandeis University, under pressure from misguided people decrying Ayaan Hirsi Ali as an “Islamophobe,” as well as from the Council on American Islamic relation (CAIR; an organization that, under the guise of improving those relations, issues veiled threats about offending Muslims), rescinded an invitation for Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree. Hirsi Ali made a dignified  response (here) and refused Brandeis’s invitation to come back some other time to engage in “discussion.”

It was a cowardly move for Brandeis, motivated solely by fear and political correctness. Hirsi Ali is in fact a hero: a woman who has basically given up the possibility of a normal life in the cause of improving the treatment of women under Islam. After the murder of her collaborator Theo van Gogh, and threats on her own life, as well as a political kerfuffle (the Dutch government first rescinded her citizenship because she made untruthful statement on her application for asylum, and then restored her citizenship), she moved to the U.S., where she then had difficulty getting a job.  She still travels with armed guards, and I suspect that if they weren’t there, she would be killed rather soon.

When I wrote about all this a while back, the usual Muslim apologists appeared, decrying Hirsi Ali as unworthy of an honorary degree for four reasons: she lied on her application for asylum in the Netherlands; she said things that, to some, seemed to constitute praise for the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik; she made statements that were strongly anti-Islam (and thus was an “Islamophobe”; and she worked for a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Few of these commenters bothered to dig into the background of those accusations, so eager were they to smear her as an unworthy “Islamophobe.”

On his website yesterday, Sam Harris published a long conversation he had with Hirsi Ali, “Lifting the veil of ‘Islamophobia’.” I recommend that you read it, especially if you’re one of her critics.  It’s not so much an interview as a mutual condemnation of the perfidies and violence of Islam, and of the silence of Islamic “moderates.” It’s a conversation between friends who are frustrated at the unwarranted sympathy or silence accorded to Muslim misdeeds and the condemnation of critics as “Islamophobes.”

Sam concentrates on the issues above that have led to Hirsi Ali—and Harris himself—being labelled as “Islamophobes.” You’ll learn the reason she was untruthful on her application for asylum (she feared retribution from her Canadian husband from an arranged marriage, retribution that indeed happened), what she meant when she talked about Breivik, and why she went to work for the AEI. The reason for that is because, cowed by Islam, no liberal think tank would hire her. So let’s correct that record right now:

Hirsi Ali: ” . . . So I approached Cynthia [Schneider, the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands under Clinton], and she took me to the Brookings Institute, and to Rand, and to Johns Hopkins, and to Georgetown—she took me to all these institutions, and there was no interest. They didn’t say it to my face, but I got the feeling that they were uncomfortable with what I had been saying about Islam.

Then, on the last day, just before I left the country, Cynthia suggested that we try the AEI. And I said something like “I can’t believe you’d take me there. It’s supposed to be a right-wing organization.” And she said, “Oh, come on. You Dutch people are too prejudiced against the U.S. Things here are really very different than you think. I was a Clinton appointee, and one of my best friends—one of Clinton’s best friends—Norm Ornstein, is there. So it’s not what you think it is. And it’s definitely not religious.”

So we went to the AEI, and I met with Norm Ornstein and a woman named Colleen Baughman, and they were so enthusiastic. They immediately introduced me to their president, who suggested that we talk again in a month. And we just kept talking. I spoke about my work; they told me about what they do. And I didn’t hear back from any of the other institutions that I had solicited.

Harris: So the truly mortifying answer to the question of why you are at the AEI is that no liberal institution would offer you shelter when you most needed it—and when your value to the global conversation about free speech, the rights of women, and other norms of civilization was crystal clear. And ever since, your affiliation with the one institution that did take you in has been used to defame you in liberal circles. Perfect.

Hirsi Ali: Well, it certainly seemed at the time that none of the other institutions were willing to talk about Islam in the way that I do—and specifically about its treatment of women.

. . . I find it sad. And you should know that during all my interviews with the AEI and my subsequent years there, they’ve always understood that I’m a liberal. No one within the organization has tried to change my mind about anything—not about Islam, or euthanasia, or abortion, or religion, or gay rights, or any of the other things that many of my colleagues have problems with. They’ve never opposed my atheism or confronted me with anything I have said in public. It’s a wonderful institution. 

Let us not, then, hear anything more about her association with a conservative think tank. Rather than criticize her for working for the AEI, criticize the Brookings Institute and others for not hiring her.

There’s a lot more meat in their discussion, but you should read it yourself. It’s not short, but will teach you what happens when a Muslim woman goes up against the misogynistic tenets of her faith.

There’s one more thing I’d like to highlight. When Hirsi Ali moved to the U.S., she needed armed protection since the Dutch government would no longer pay for her bodyguards. That protection was purchased with the help of both the AEI and Harris himself, who solicited his friends and acquaintances. That’s a noble thing to do, but not all of Harris’s friends were on board:

Harris: As a relevant counterpoint, I should say that when I was raising money for your security, I got in touch with some of my contacts in the “moderate” Muslim community. In particular, I reached out to Reza Aslan, with whom I was on entirely cordial terms. I said, essentially, “Reza, wouldn’t it be great if the vast majority of Muslims who are moderate helped protect Ayaan from the minority who aren’t?” It seems to me undeniable that if people like Reza are going to argue that Islam is just like any other religion, they have a real interest in ensuring that people can safely criticize their faith—or even leave it.

But all Reza did was attack you as a bigot and deny, against all evidence, that you had any security concerns worth taking seriously. His response came as quite a shock to me, frankly. I was unprepared to encounter this level of moral blindness and ill will, especially at a moment when I was reaching out for help.

Aslan, as I’ve noted before, is a Muslim apologist and author of  No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islama book that, to me, simply whitewashed the bad aspects of modern Islam, painting it as truly a religion of peace. How cowardly and hypocritical of him to refuse to help, and then attack Hirsi Ali as an Islamophobe! And believe me, she did have reason to fear for her life.  Look what happened to Theo van Gogh, who helped produce the movie she wrote, “Submission“, about the mistreatment of women under Islam (from Wikipedia; my emphasis):

Van Gogh was murdered by Mohammed Bouyeri as he was cycling to work on 2 November 2004 at about 9 o’clock in the morning, in front of the Amsterdam East borough office (stadsdeelkantoor), on the corner of the Linnaeusstraat and Tweede Oosterparkstraat. . .  The killer shot van Gogh eight times with an HS2000 handgun. Initially from his bicycle, Bouyeri fired several bullets at Van Gogh, who was hit, as were two bystanders. Wounded, Van Gogh ran to the other side of the road and fell to the ground on the cycle lane. According to eyewitnesses, Van Gogh’s last words were: “Mercy, mercy! We can talk about it, can’t we?” Bouyeri then walked up to Van Gogh, who was still lying down, and calmly shot him several more times at close range. Bouyeri then cut Van Gogh’s throat, and tried to decapitate him with a large knife, after which he stabbed the knife deep into Van Gogh’s chest, reaching his spinal cord. He then attached a note to the body with a smaller knife. Van Gogh died on the spot. The two knives were left implanted. The note was addressed and contained a death threat to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was subsequently forced to go into hiding, threatened Western countries and Jews and also referred to the ideologies of the Egyptian organization Takfir wal-Hijra.

Aslan is reprehensible, a conclusion I had already reached from reading his book. But this makes it infinitely worse. A man who argues that Islam is a peaceful religion should certainly help provide protection for someone whose life was threatened for criticizing it!

In honor of Hirsi Ali, I present the film Submission (11 minutes total), the movie for which van Gogh gave his life and for which Hirsi Ali will need lifelong protection. Watch it and see if you think it justifies Muslim outrage. It’s simply a work strongly critical of how Muslims treat women. I’m sure Hirsi Ali knew what it would provoke, but she wanted to show the truth. She truly is a hero, and surely doesn’t deserve the opprobrium heaped upon her by American liberals—and even some readers of this site.



  1. Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    She truly is a hero, and doesn’t deserve the opprobrium heaped upon her by American liberals …

    Agreed. But those of “the left” who do heap opprobrium on her do not deserve the noble label “liberal”.

    • TJR
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Yes, “liberal” probably has more different definitions than any other word, see for example the substantially different usages in US, UK and Aus.

      Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Niall Ferguson both call themselves classical liberals, which in modern UK parlance roughly means orange book liberals or one nation tories.

      Not sure about the US equivalent, but its not the same as the usual US usage of “liberal”.

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

        In the US “liberal” means “socialist, commie, red, atheist pagan”. 🙂

        • Posted May 10, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

          pinko commies

          • Diane G.
            Posted May 10, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

            Don’t forget “elitist” and “pointy-headed intellectual.”

      • eric
        Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        I think it’s fair to say that US think tanks that call themselves ‘liberal’ were being somewhat hypocritical when they refused her, even if their definition of ‘liberal’ might not match the British one. Our version of ‘liberal’ very much encompasses equal rights for women and social activism focused on changing social and cultural mores for the better. Yes, it also seeks respect for nonwestern people and ideas, but Ali’s position regarding women’s education in the mideast (as just one example) fits very comfortably in the “American liberal” category.

  2. Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Aslan’s example as a McScholar should be a beacon of hope for anyone trying to make it to a teaching position at a good university.

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali is definitely a hero. She could have just shut up and lived a peaceful life after escaping all that she went through but she chose instead to speak out, knowing how dangerous doing so would be. On top of that, she learned new languages and attained high proficiency in them! I don’t think I would be as resilient as she is.

  4. Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on hitchens67 Atheism WOW!! Campaign.

  5. Dermot C
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Brilliant post. Were Hirsi Ali in England, I’d hope that people in my natural home, the Labour Party, would see that she had protection: but I’m by no means convinced that they would.

    When Rushdie needed protection in England, however, I seem to remember that the government provided it. If it doesn’t, why doesn’t the U.S. state provide protection for Hirsi Ali?

  6. Pirate
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Hirsi Ali is a very courageous woman, and I agree that Brandeis behaved in a shameful manner. However, it’s a bit much to criticize every organization that didn’t offer her support. For instance, you say the Brookings Institute deserves criticism for refusing to hire her. Why? Brookings usually hires Ph.D.’s, experts in their field. Hirsi Ali is brave and impressive, but she is not a particularly insightful scholar. She simply doesn’t fit the profile of a Brookings expert. The idea that anyone who didn’t immediately give her what she wanted must be an apologist for Islam is risible.

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      Did I say that Brookings was an apologist for Islam? No, I didn’t. It was Ali herself who got the feeling that these organizations were uncomfortable with what she’d be saying about Islam.

      Your last sentence is a strawman, and please don’t characterize what the host says as “risible.” You can disagree if you want, but that’s pushing the limits.

    • eric
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      I think the bigger lesson here is the pattern, not any individual refusal. Had she gotten offers from 50% of them and rejections from 50%, its unlikely anyone would think much of the rejections. But a 100% rejection rate seems both surprising and suspicious.

      As for Brookings itself…hey look, I just pulled up their Foreign Policy page and their headline item is their “US-Islamic World Forum,” where the theme is “Islam and Inclusion.” Gosh, let me think…who might be able to expertly discuss that topic?

  7. darrelle
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    F*%$#$%^ Me. I’ve seen enough of Aslan to know he is willfully ignorant and even intellectually dishonest when it comes to religion. But I had no idea he was such a miserable piece of shit.

    I am disappointed in my fellow humans who give Aslan any respect, such as John Oliver did when he interviewed him on John Stewart’s show. Well, I was ignorant of his abysmally low ethics, so I suppose I have to concede that that is a reasonable excuse. I will certainly not give Aslan any respect anymore, unless of course he admits his douchebaggery and makes amends.

    I’ve got no problem if Aslan, or anyone, had reasonably decided that they where not financially capable of significantly contributing to Ali’s security needs. But Aslan’s reasons and his reaction were despicable.

  8. Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Beyond Belief and commented:
    Ayaan’s story is amazing, and she is brave. But Dr. Coyne, don’t sell yourself short: This post of yours is extraordinarily brave and honorable!! Thank you for standing, while others sit silently.

    • Dermot C
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Hear, hear.

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      While I fully support Jerry’s sentiments and applaud his post, have we really got to the situation where it is “brave” to say such things?

      (Yes I realise that other notable atheistic blogs tend to freak out at the mention of Hirsi Ali or Sam Harris and the like, for reasons that I don’t fully understand.)

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        Of course it’s not really brave at all for me to say such things. In contrast to Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Sam, I risk NOTHING but writing about this stuff. So I appreciate the encomium but certainly don’t deserve it. So thank you, Coel, for pointing out that I’m not really brave.

        • TJR
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          Well, we certainly *hope* that you are not being brave.

        • Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          Paraphrasing my Alma Mater’s horrendous advertising slogan:

          “Brave: It’s a matter of degree.”

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        I obviously would say “Yes.” But don’t ask me. Ask those who spoke out about Islam, and its practices, who have been killed for their critiques.

        Oh wait… we can’t ask them… they’re dead.

        It will remain “brave” as long as the lack of solidarity support and backing discussed by Ali and Harris continues, and as long as violent adherents of Islam feel emboldened enough to act on their beliefs.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          She is brave in two ways: 1) as a former Muslim who could be killed for apostasy 2) as a woman — female public speakers who aren’t controversial are often harassed by creepers and end up with body guards…if you’re a controversial female speaker you are probably in for triple the creepers!

          • darrelle
            Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

            Ashamedly that is so. I guess I am somewhat naive in this respect, but I am regularly surprised by misogyny revealed in groups that I would never have thought to see it in.

            It is always disappointing to see people who in most circumstances proclaim and behave as if equality for all is right and proper, except for that one group there. Or people who say and likely believe equality for all is right and proper, and don’t even recognize that they treat some other group as not equal. It is especially disappointing to suddenly notice that in your self. At least then you can do something about it.

  9. krzysztof1
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I read the interview last night. We need more people like Hirsi Ali. We also need more people who, like you, will support her and her efforts to tell the truth.

  10. jay
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    This is one reason I refuse to identify as liberal or conservative. There is a lot of strawman type stereotyping on both ‘sides ‘ but there are thoughtful people in both camps as well.

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      I’m sure there are thoughtful conservatives.

      But I wouldn’t characterize the average conservative’s criticism of Islam as thoughtful. As Sam himself often points out, you can be right for the wrong reasons. My mother, whose heroes include Dennis Prager and Rush Limbaugh, expresses dismay and opposition regarding sharia law, but it’s not because she’s being fair-minded or thoughtful.

      • ploubere
        Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        If one is thoughtful, one doesn’t often reach the conclusions most American conservatives hold. And where I currently reside in the South, anti-Islam sentiment has no interest in women’s rights and everything to do with the fact that they are not properly christian. So those of us with conscience find it necessary to side with muslims here on such issues as building mosques. It’s not so much admiration for islam as fending off a christian theocracy. We’re losing that battle.

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:28 am | Permalink

      “…there are thoughtful people in both camps as well.”

      I think it’s more to the point to say that there are stupid people in both camps as well.

      Which is one reason I don’t like to identify with either. (But when has to, the choice is an easy one.)

      • Posted May 10, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        Ditto for me. I’ve always been registered Independent politically, but never have labeled myself conservative or liberal either. It could rise from the fact that I disagree with many things do. Both the parties and people labeling themselves conservative or liberal often have more ideological streaks running through their views than I care for. The treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one example on the left.

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 10, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

          Well said.

          I’ve often wished I was more of a “black-and-white” and less of a “gray area” person; life would be a lot simpler, but I just don’t work that way. Unfortunately now we even see atheist/freethought/humanistic communities getting ideological.

  11. Daoud
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    First, so no one overreacts: I have great admiration for Hirsi Ali, I do not agree at all with the condemnation of her.

    Though I don’t follow her closely, so this was the first time I saw she has been accused of expressing sympathy for Anders Breivik. I was curious so I tried to find why that was the case, google led me to this:

    I realize this site is strongly anti-Hirsi Ali, I’ll ignore the commentary, just looking at the quotes from her speech in Germany (supposing they are accurate). Coupled with reading her response about the controversy in the Sam Harris interview. No, I don’t think she sympathizes with Breivik or is anything but horrified at his actions. I do think she phrased things poorly in her speech in Germany though:

    ” He says very clearly that it was the advocates of silence. Because all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence”

    I think that argument could be construed as “blaming the victim”. Because it’s a rubbish argument, if Breivik felt that way, it’s because his head was full of bullshit, not because he was legitimately unable to express his political views in appropriate ways. I don’t think that is what she meant, and does not seem that way from her clarification she gave to Sam Harris, but I do think it offers a bit of rope to hang her, if that is what you are inclined to do. (and to clarify once again, I do not. I do not agree at all with the condemnation).

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      One has to be careful in judging the meaning of two sentences picked out of context. You can read Hirsi Ali’s full speech here.

      Essentially it is a reply to people telling Hirsi Ali not to criticise Islam, people telling her that it is people like her who inspired Breivik, and pointing to the fact that Breivik mentioned Hirsi Ali in his manifesto.

      Hirsi Ali is basically saying, no, that’s not what Breivik said, he actually said he was inspired more by those who refuse to critise Islam.

      It may not be the best-written piece of speech, but there is nothing abhorent about it when interpreted sensibly in context.

    • alex
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      I’ll reply here with another example of the same category. I’m a big fan of Hirsi Ali. Loved the Harris conversation.

      I expected to find exculpatory context for her support of military conquest of all Islam here: http://reason.com/archives/2007/10/10/the-trouble-is-the-west/singlepage (Search for “militarily” and go back a few questions.)

      What I actually found is that she rebuffed the interviewer’s attempt to distinguish radical Islam from all (let’s just say “moderate”) Islam. I think her one qualifier (see “Sufis”) doesn’t change the point.

      I understand and agree that the moderates enable the radicals. What I don’t understand is that this justifies military conquest of all Islam, moderate and radical. I can see how a lot of people have a problem with this.

      (FWIW I think her Breivik comment was simply misconstrued, but I don’t see that latitude here.)

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        Well *is* there a “moderate” Islam? That’s a different question from whether there are moderate *Muslims*, the question is whether there is a moderate version of the *ideology*, one that accepts pluralism, secular politics, apostasy, free speech, etc.

        Hirsi Ali thinks there is not (“There is no moderate Islam. … but there’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it”). Maybe she is right?

        (By the way, “militarily” was not her word, she wants to oppose Islam in every way, but she has not advocated a military invasion of Saudi Arabia.)

        • eric
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

          Well *is* there a “moderate” Islam?

          We can certainly point to large social groups of muslims that practice a moderate, nonviolent, relatively secular version of the faith. There’s 2.6 million muslims in the US – which is a bigger number than the populations of Qatar or Bahrain, and in the same order of magnitude as the populations of Kuwait or Oman (both closer to 4 mil).

          And while Turkey has backslid in the past decade, I think we can credit Attaturk with getting it 80% of the way towards being a secular, religiously tolerant state. I think that’s an important example, because it’s a counter-example to anyone arguing that just because peaceful minorities of muslims are nonviolent, that does not predict they will remain nonviolent in the majority. Turkey is overwhelmingly majority muslim, and it’s a clear example that not every nation with a muslim population must go the way of Saudi and not every predominantly muslim political party must go the way of the muslim brotherhood.

          There’s no law of numbers here that prevents the current seeds of moderate islam from taking root. If 70,000 muslims in NYC can form a relatively western, modern, community, then there is no reason to think cities and countries of 700,000 or 7,000,000 can’t do the same thing.

          Having said that, and since this thread is about Hirsi Ali, I bet Hirsi would probably disagree with me. She would probably point out that while the groups I mention may be better than some others, they are still more sexist and misogynistic, more prone to violence, etc… than we should tolerate, because (AIU her opinion), this misogyny is rooted in the faith itself and cannot be extricated from it. While I might disagree (mainly out of a very cynical view of religions; I see them more as windsocks of cultural opinion rather than leaders of it), I think both she and I would at least partially agree on ways forward, which include things like increasing the education and freedom of muslim women, working to make violence socially unacceptable in these communities, etc…

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

            Your reply still conflates two issues, whether *people* are moderate and whether an *ideology* is moderate. A Muslim could be moderate by compromising an ideology against other ideas. All humans hold a range of different views which they play off against each other.

            I readily agree that majority-Muslim populations can be moderate. But is there a moderate version of Islam, of the ideology?

        • stevenjohnson
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          I read the speech in the link you provided above. Breivik apparently believed that Political Correctness and lefties and such like repressed the civilized whites in their struggle against the immigrant Muslim menace so much there was no recourse but individual violence.

          Hirsan Ali believes that PC etc is repressing the civilized in their struggle against the immigrant Muslim menace. She doesn’t advocate individual violence but does advocate solidarity with the US in response to 9/11, which means endorsing physical attacks and subversion in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines and Somalia. I suppose she also supports the US sponsored invasions of Somalia by Ethiopia and Kenya.

          I’ll be honest with you, the only real difference I’m seeing is one is committed to state violence and the other committed to individual violence. Of course, this is generally considered a huge difference, for obvious practical reasons.

          Oddly, Hirsan Ali does not attack the longtime US government alliances with the very worst of the Islamist regimes, Saudi Arabia and the oil sheikhdoms, despite the huge contribution the US makes. Every time I start to whip up an enthusiasm for US policies resisting militant Islam, I get all deflated because none of the people who hate Islam have any interest in policies that might actually have an effect, such as on official allies. Attacking enemies as bad doesn’t really seem to be much of a reach. Touting the menace of Muslim immigrants really seems like a strategic diversion.

          As to the possible reality of a moderate Islam, of course it’s possible. The Quran and hadith have had exactly the same commandments that make terror inevitable according to Hirsan Ali, yet it is a matter of historical record that Islam has had tolerant manifestations. Perhaps the caliphate of Cordoba is the most famous, though I suspect it was golden legended because of what followed.

          • Daoud
            Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

            That is something I will often repeat, for myself, I don’t share the level of concern about the Muslim world that Ali Hirsi or perhaps Dr. Coyne has. *Except* for Saudi Arabia and its incredibly, century-old subversion of the that Muslim world. The modern state of Saudi Arabia is extremely harmful, for the world and particularly the Muslim world. Almost all the violent and extremist Islamicist movements in the Muslim world have their foundation, as well as moral and financial support from Saudi Arabia. And it is so harmful and pervasive because of the extreme wealth of Saudi Arabia coupled with its unfortunate status as “guardian” of Mecca and Medina. SUCH an Orwellian term because Saudi Arabia has and continues to destroy most of early Islamic history within Mecca, Medina, and the nation at large. It’s a disaster for my historical, archaeological self.

            Especially since it’s the centennial year, it’s worth investigating how many of the contemporary problems with the Arab (and larger Muslim world) have their modern roots in the guns of August, 1914, and particularly the British, French, and Ottomans. A lot of today’s global issues are still the aftermath from those crumbling empires.

          • eric
            Posted May 9, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

            Yeah, our support for SA is a big counter-current for any liberalizing foreign policy we want to try. It’s hard to yell ‘reform!’ with any sincerity when you’re shoveling tens of millions to the worst of the reform-allergic autocrats in the region.

            I’m not sure that support is going to go away any time soon, unless SA itself does something itself to remove it (such as kicking us out). That alliance is not just abotu oil, it’s also about projecting military power as a counterweight to Iran (and Iraq too, in the past…not so much any more). So, at this point reformers will probably just have to live with that ball and chain attached to their leg and do the best they can regardless.

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            Hirsan Ali believes that PC etc is repressing the civilized in their struggle against the immigrant Muslim menace.

            Has she actually used phrases such as “immigrant menace”?

            • stevenjohnson
              Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

              I will repeat that history has proven that her thesis that the Quran and hadith mandate that Islam is essentially Salfist/Wahhabi/jihadist or however you care to phrase is an untruth. I still can’t take seriously people here in this country who hate Islam but don’t care about the US defense of Saudi Arabia.

              “They also urge that cultural demands made by
              some Muslim leaders be accommodated without complaint. Animal rights groups are asked to look the other way when it comes to the ritual slaughter of sheep, cows and chickens. Women’s rights groups are told to look for other issues when they agitate against women’s only swimming pools, the veil, forced marriages, genital mutilation and even honor killings. Activists may condemn the killing of women and the forcing of girls into marriage, but they may not link it to the religion of Islam or the community of Muslims.” This is an entire list of menaces. About the only thing missing is the plot to impose Sharia law.

              And her entire speech is about the “complex and challenging problem” of integrating Muslim immigrants.

              By the way, she wrote this as well. “However, there are also cultural issues that I believe are more important to understand. In fact, the poverty, the school dropout rate, the welfare dependence, the crime and the violence against women are better explained by understanding the habits, the customs, the religious beliefs and the values of the people involved than simply focusing on the social and economic symptoms of these cultural mechanisms. To be silent about this, in my view, is counterproductive.” I find this kind of right wing thinking to be unpersuasive. Instead, I think that if the fleshpots were available to tempt the puritanical, then “integration” would proceed with alacrity.

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

                It seems to me that all of your actual quotes of Hirsi Ali are sensible, and that your “paraphrases” of her are unfair.

              • stevenjohnson
                Posted May 10, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

                PS Letting Hirsi Ali off the hook for the untrue claims that the Quran and the hadith really do mandate modern jihadism, in defiance of historical fact that the same Quran and hadith manifestly did not, is what’s unfair. Gen./Pres. Zia ul-Haq, for instance, got a lot more of his support from the US government than from either, and Hirsi Ali knows it, probably better than either of us. There is no more reason to believe her version of Islam is any truer than claims that hindutva is mandated by Hindu religion.

                Lest it be overlooked, her “religion of Islam” causes poverty thesis is “the culture of poverty” thesis for african-americans. It is not one bit more believable.

                “he late Axel Springer had four guiding principles, which he later extended to five after the terrorist attacks of September 2001…
                Support of the transatlantic alliance and solidarity with the USA on the basis of shared values of freedom.” HIrsi Ali is still supporting the Iraq war in 2012?

        • alex
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          I can accept those distinctions and claims regarding “moderates.” I was bothered that Hirsi Ali readily adopted ‘militarily’ as one of the necessary approaches, even if she didn’t introduce the word. One does not conquer Islam with a military; one conquers people with a military. She appears to reject distinguishing among the kinds of such people.

          • eric
            Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            I think her gist is easy enough to get and can be understood in an anti-idea way, not an anti-person way. She thinks the governments of islamic states will not voluntarily accept (or enforce) human rights reforms in the near future, and so she thinks we should impose those reforms on these states using military force if necessry. That is still anti-idea-based change, rather than anti-people.

            There are some precedents for this, albeit not everyone will find them convincing. The US compelled Japan to change its constitution after WWII to be more to our liking, and we sat in the country with our military for the next six decades to make sure our changes stuck (well, for lots of other, more aboveboard reasons too). That is a relatively successful example…I think Germany after WWI might be an example of an unsuccessful application of the same strategy. US “assistance” in the formation of the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan is a third example of the same – and probably sits somewhere in the middle, between the abject failure of the Weimar Republic and the huge long term success of post-WWII Japan.

            • alex
              Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

              I appreciate the reply. So long as the discussion regards action against states I am not so bothered.

              However the proximal interview text mentions states not at all. It mentions infiltration of Islam at a rather personal level. Immediately before military action is mentioned, her example is “effigy burning.” That’s not a government action, that’s a popular action. (Notwithstanding nuances of government sponsorship and incitement, I think.) It’s awfully hard for me not to conclude that she encourages stopping the effigy burners themselves with military action. I picture the widespread dropping of bombs on public squares.

              I suspect (hope?) the answer is no, and you are capturing her meaning. In my opinion the interview does no service to that meaning at all.

      • Daoud
        Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Huh, she does not come across well in that interview in my opinion. She seems really angry–and she may be completely justifiably angry–but that still can impact negatively on discussion from the best of minds.

        A bit like the “nuke ’em all” anger many Americans expressed in the weeks following 9/11.

        But I don’t expect or demand perfection from her, or anyone, least of all from myself.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this! I had no idea about Hirsi Ali’s background, but the interview described it and Harris’s characterization of “have fully recapitulated the Enlightenment in your own life” suits.

    Useful quote:

    ““Islamophobia”—which our inimitable friend Christopher Hitchens once dubbed “a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.””

    [ I wish I could find the source though. No luck so far. Oh well, even if it would be unofficial I can adopt it for its aptness. ]

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      To be clear, I have probably had ample chance to catch up on Hirsi Ali’s background. I just wasn’t interested enough before – my loss.

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        I recommend her book, “Infidel”, essentially an autobiography.

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:49 am | Permalink

      Do read Infidel. It’s not only an eye-opener on just what it means to grow up female in Islamic African nations, it’s an amazing human story. From the most unlikeliest of beginnings this person ultimately arrives at enlightenment values solely by experiencing and drawing conclusions about different cultures and their treatment of individuals. It’s trite to say that any piece of art will “make you stand up and cheer”–but this one just might. 🙂

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 10, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        +1 Infidel is a great book!

  13. worried secularist
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I see a link, or, rather, a disconnect, between the way we view Hirsi Ali and the way we view Malala, the brave girl shot by the Pakistani Taliban for daring to stand up for education for girls. While Malala is – quite rightly – hugely admired for her courage and her stand, Hirsi Ali is often condemned despite her own courage and heroic stands for girls and women.

    The difference: Malala continues to espouse Islam as a religion of peace, insisting that her attackers misunderstand it; Hirsi Ali has no use for it, which makes her persona non grata for the multiculturalists. I happen to think she is an exceptional human being and we should thank ceiling cat for her.

    • eric
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Give it time. In our sexist world, the longer a woman speaks, the more resentful about it (parts of) society gets. Ali’s got a few more years of forceful public speaking under her belt, so she’s seen as more of a b**ch.

      • Marella
        Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

        Quite, and she’s still a teenager. Wait until she’s in her 20s and 30s. If she hasn’t given up they’ll be treating her just as badly.

  14. Faustus
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Although I agree with you I have one sight problem. The youtube link is to a user called “aryanpower14”. It might be wise to use another link, to stop such a user gaining ad revenue from this film.

  15. Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    The author of “Lying” approves of her lie:

    “Harris: Clearly, you told the immigration officials what they needed to hear to ensure your own safety. You were fleeing people who scared you for reasons that are completely understandable. I don’t see how any serious person can hold this against you.”

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Interesting observation.

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      Excellent point, actually, considering that Harris would question the ethics and morality of lying to the Gestapo to protect a Jew.

      I would really like to see this question of the acceptability of her lie posed to Harris.

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        I should add that I fully support Hirsi Ali and agree with Harris on most things. But unless I am missing something obvious, I would like to see if this is a shift in Harris’ postion of almost zero tolerance for lies.

        If it is, he should acknowledge it.

        • Posted May 9, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          I had the exact same thoughts when I read this part of the conversation. I’d have to go back and read his precise stance on lying, but if I recall the gist of it, it was that there is almost no circumstance where we should do it. If he stated it in absolute terms, then yes, it would be interesting to see if he admits to this error.

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            On his blog there is an old conversation with a former professor of his (I think; don’t really remember all the details) in which the professor is really 100% no lying ever, and Sam argues that in some circumstances (eg, Jews in the attic, Nazis at the door) it is not only ok to lie, but morally imperative. Sam is not being inconsistent here. This is exactly the type of situation in which he has previously argued that lying is permissible.

            • Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

              I was thinking of the same conversation. I did manage to dig this up, so it’s pretty clear he isn’t saying that a lie is never a necessity:

              My daughter is nearly five, and I can recall lying to her only once. We were looking for nursery rhymes on the Internet and landed on a page that showed a 16th-century woodcut of a person being decapitated. As I was hurriedly scrolling elsewhere, she demanded to know what we had just seen. I said something silly like “That was an old and very impractical form of surgery.” This left her suitably perplexed, and she remains unaware of man’s inhumanity to man to this day. However, I doubt that even this lie was necessary. I just wasn’t thinking very fast on my feet. – See more at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-high-cost-of-tiny-lies#sthash.89HVMYKM.dpuf

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:55 am | Permalink

          “I should add that I fully support Hirsi Ali and agree with Harris on most things.”

          Ditto. And there’s no particular reason we should agree with anyone on everything. I found a lot to disagree with in Lying, but I’m still a fan of his.

    • Marella
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      The thesis of “Lying” is not that it is unacceptable to lie under any circumstances, but that we lie more often that is good for us. These are not the same thing. Sam would not support telling the truth if it’s going to get you killed.

  16. Chris
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    She is a brave woman but anyone who made the decision to marry that awful right wing idiot Ferguson may have a few faults:-)

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      You know, if I posted about Martin Luther King I doubt that people would weigh in and mention his faults, like his plagiarized thesis or the fact that he was a notorious adulterer. But people can’t wait to pick out a few imperfections of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I wonder why that is?

      Frankly, these “she’s great but. . . ” comments are making me wonder what’s behind them. After all, we know that nobody’s perfect.

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

        Great response!

  17. Michael Scally
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Boko Haram and the Kidnapped Schoolgirls
    The Nigerian terror group reflects the general Islamist hatred of women’s rights. When will the West wake up?

  18. Posted May 9, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Sam Harris touched on the point that I’ve heard him make several times in talks and I believe originally made in one of his books: Somehow, the people best equipped in America to understand the religious extremism in the Muslim world are our own religious fundamentalists.

    Why do we readily accept something like an emotional attachment to a zygote as a person as a sincere religious stance, but not one that says that martyrdom is an honor? In fact, I would say that it is utterly irrational to not take up an offer of eternal bliss, no matter what the consequence, if it is a sincerely held belief. This is less pervasive in Judaism and Christianity, but there are certainly evils such as the story of Abraham and Isaac.

    We could view that as a metaphor meaning that we should do as God asks us (which is the most common rationalization I’ve heard for the story), but what then does that mean if God actually did ask us to kill our son? There’s no way out of it, and the Islamic texts condoning atrocities are far more blatant.

  19. Marella
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a wonderful woman who should be given all the support she needs. I have read some of her books, her life has been very difficult but her courage and strength has carried her on. She is an inspiration to all women everywhere.

  20. Posted May 10, 2014 at 2:25 am | Permalink


%d bloggers like this: