"My criticsim of the West, especially of liberals, is that they take freedom for granted. Hirsi Ali, this past weekend in NYC.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was in New York, that bastion of liberalism, where her host at PEN acted badly, the cognitive dissonance in the room belonged less to those who had paid to listen to her than to those who had invited her to speak.....
Like an increasing number of immigrants in the West who refuse to have a “victim” label pinned to their lapels, the Dutch-Somalian actress, author, and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali represents something of a problem for liberal intellectuals. A short film she cowrote, “Submission,” was shown on Dutch television in August 2004. Its subject was the mistreatment of Muslim women at the hands of Muslim men.
Deliberately provocative, the film projected words from the Koran onto exposed female flesh. Just over two months later, the director, Theo van Gogh, was savagely murdered by a Muslim fundamentalist.Ever since, Ms. Ali, who is a member of the Dutch Parliament and the author of a new book, “The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam”, has had to live under the protection of armed guards. On Sunday, Ms.Ali was interviewed by the Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch at the New York Public Library as part of PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature.[Not so incidentally, Hirsi Ali was recently evicted from her home. Just to show how far Dutch tolerance goes: Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s neighbors have sued the Dutch state in order to get her to be removed from the apartment complex in which she is living under police protection. The request was initially rejected, but following an appeal a higher court has now ordered Hirsi Ali to leave her house within four months, Peaktalk translates here - Atlas]
Paul Holdengraber, the library’s director of public events, got things going with a brief introduction, pausing only to take a mandatory swipe at President Bush, before introducing the president of PEN American Center, Ron Chernow.
Mr. Chernow’s introduction was curiously ungracious. It consisted largely of a warning that the audience might find itself in agreement with only some of what Ms. Ali had to say, or perhaps just a small portion of it, or even none of it. Nevertheless, he assured us, we could all agree that she is a woman of uncommon courage and integrity.
A slender, dark-skinned woman with a pretty face and long-fingered, expressive hands, Ms. Ali, 37, smiled politely as she took this in. She is, after all, a politician, and accustomed to what in a few minutes she would term “the liberal betrayal” — namely, the failure of the West to defend its own Enlightenment values against those who openly seek to undermine or destroy them. On this particular afternoon, it would take an African refugee to remind a New Yorker writer (Mr. Gourevitch), a multi-lingual European intellectual impresario (Mr. Holdengraber), and the president of PEN American Center (Mr. Chernow) that courage and integrity are not necessarily at odds with rational, coherent thought, and might even be an integral part of it. At least Salman Rushdie, seated in the front row in what appeared to be a gesture of moral support for a co-religionist in trouble with Muslim radicals, seemed to understand.
Mr. Gourevitch, the 45-year-old author of a critically acclaimed account of the Rwanda genocide, “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families,” conducted the interview fluently and without the benefit of notes. His demeanor was cool and mildly skeptical. He didn’t place Ms. Ali in the dock, exactly, but he certainly didn’t put her on a pedestal. There was an unmistakable air of cognitive dissonance in the room — how do we deal with this woman? — given almost palpable expression by occasional loud bursts of electronic static that initially seemed to give the Dutch woman a fright. (She does, after all, suffer from continual death threats.) But she laughed it off.
“My criticism of the West, especially of liberals, is that they do take freedom for granted,” Ms. Ali responded. She noted that Western Europeans born after World War II are unused to conflict. “They have lost the instinct to recognize that there can be such a thing as an enemy or a threat to freedom, and that’s what I’m witnessing in Europe now,” she stated. “[There is] a pacifist ideology that violence should never be used in any circumstances, and so we should talk and talk and talk. Even when your opponent tells you, ‘I don’t want to talk to you, I want to destroy you,’ the reaction is, ‘Please, let’s talk about the fact that you want to destroy me!’” [That sums up the American left - Atlas]
At this, the audience, which included a female student wearing a Little Green Footballs T-shirt, a reference to the pro-Iraq war Web site, burst into laughter. At the end of the interview, the Dutch politician and author was given rousing applause, and it became clear that whatever cognitive dissonance had been in the room belonged less to those who had paid to listen to her than to those who had invited her to speak.
I never post here (though I read quite frequently--LGF is my homepage! And I really should be commenting more often) but I'm very proud to say that I am the "female student wearing a Little Green Footballs T-shirt" mentioned here :)
I'm honestly thrilled that I was able to go hear Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak. As I remarked to my mother, this was the first time I've heard a speaker with whom I agreed on every point. I think she's incredibly inspiring and I wish more people had the opportunity to hear what she has to say. Surprisingly, hardly anyone in the elitist-NYC-liberal circle I go to school with every day knows about her--I told my U.S. Government teacher I went to hear her speak, and not only did he not know who she was, he'd never heard about Theo van Gogh! I think that's all pretty appalling.. .
. . And no, my t-shirt wasn't wet. I'm a respectable pro-Iraq-war-website reader!
There was never any doubt.
UPDATE: I took down the rest of the article until I receive permission from The New York Sun to run it all. Check back tomorrow.