An Evening at Yale with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

 

Last evening I attended a lecture at Yale sponsored by the William F. Buckley Program (its goal being to promote intellectual diversity at the school) and delivered by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, currently a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I’d been unaware of the scheduled lecture until reading about a controversy triggered by an open letter from Yale’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) which denounced the invitation to Hirsi Ali because of her alleged history of hate speech and intolerance. The letter backfired on the MSA when a number of the 35 other Yale student groups it claimed had endorsed the letter stated that they had done no such thing.

Although the MSA action received both local media and political blog coverage, there were no protestors outside the lecture hall tonight (though there was a Fox News Channel truck) and the audience, which contained Muslim students, was orderly.

The evening consisted of a one-hour talk by Hirsi Ali followed by 30 minutes of Q&A which was limited to questions submitted in writing by the audience. Because the topics discussed by Ali in her lecture titled “The Clash of Civilizations: Islam versus the West” are germane to several recent threads on Ricochet, I thought I’d present this selection of my notes on her talk. I have not tried to organize it or put my own interpretation on her remarks. Any personal comments of my own will be clearly noted.

The Lecture

She complimented the President of Yale for his recent statements in support of free speech and contrasted it with Brandeis University’s decision to rescind her award of an honorary degree last spring.

She spoke of the Brandeis incident and other commencement fiascos at the same time and said they involved two phenomenon. The first, which she called self-inflicted, an excessive focus on any controversial or potentially offensive (to someone) speakers and second, in her case, the problem with Islam to listen to any criticism which she said takes advantage of the first concern.

She referenced the kidnapping of young girls by Boko Haram and said that we in the West show too much restraint in our response. However, she praised the West’s use of diplomatic pressure to free the Sudanese woman who converted to Christianity.

She spoke about ISIS and said “I do not blame the President for showing restraint” and then said we need to finally figure out how we are fighting and what we are fighting. Yes, we can militarily take-out the ISIS leadership but what will we do about the next group, for there will be a next group.

It was significant that the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. last week wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed denouncing “Islamic extremism,” a term she said the Arab states had previously avoided. She called it “a good step forward.”

We need to broaden the tools and methods to deal with this threat beyond just military action and surveillance.

She then moved to her broader themes. First she took on those who attacked her for a lack of academic credentials and questioned why her experiences are relevant. [My comment: You may find this unbelievable since the Left routinely elevates those with “authentic” experience as ones we simply must listen to, but when it is someone they don’t like, they are dismissed on those grounds.]

In response, she moved to what I thought the most powerful part of her talk. She pointed out what happened to those well credentialed religious academics in Muslim societies who dissented in even minor ways from the historic teachings of Islam. She ran through a list of 20th century Muslim academics who were exiled, forced to divorce their wives, recant and, in some cases, executed.

She then spoke at length about her own experience growing up in East Africa. Her family and community were Muslim but she described it as an Islam that “if you neglected some teachings you were left alone.” There was not hostility between Sunni and Shiite and they got on well with their Christian neighbors. She added they did hate the Jews, but then again they never met any. She said many Muslims, then and now, are “peaceful, loving people.”

This changed when she was 15 and a certain teacher (she referred to him as the Preacher Teacher) arrived in their village. He had been trained somewhere in the Middle East, perhaps Saudi Arabia or Egypt, and he preached intolerance and a language new to their ears. He introduced the concepts of jihad and martyrdom, the subordinate role of women and the need to aspire to kill all Jews (not just those in Israel).

This, Ali emphasized, is the indoctrination process that it overlooked. It must be addressed because this is “the cancer.” These preachers are not just active in the Muslim world; they are here in the U.S. and U.K. [My comment:  She never said anything about how to address this]

She then said that there is only one Islam but several different kinds of Muslims.

The first are the Preacher Teachers who focus on a core of Islam (submission to Allah) and preach hatred and intolerance along with their followers.

The second, whom she said are the majority of Muslims, are in cognitive dissonance.  They are horrified by and condemn the atrocities carried out by the first group in the name of Islam but they still believe in core Islamic beliefs.

The final group are the small minority of reformists and dissidents. Ali places herself in the latter category. She defined the dissidents as those who when confronted by a conflict between their conscience and the core creed of Islam choose their conscience.

She closed by addressing some questions to the Muslim students in the audience. These included:

Why don’t you spend your time protesting the Preacher Teachers and their intolerance instead of protesting against people like me?

Why don’t Muslims protest against the image of the Koran sandwiched between two Kalashnikovs (the banner of Boko Haram)?

Why are Muslims silent about the murder of others by the intolerant ones (whether members of different Islamic sects or those of other faiths)?

She ended by saying that every day there is a headline that forces Muslims to chose between conscience and creed.

Q&A

Is there too much focus on Islamic extremism? What about colonialism and the evils of the West?

Colonialism is not unique to the Muslim world. The Vietnamese and most African states were colonized but they are not waging jihad in response. She also reminded the audience that Islam itself once was a colonial empire.

In response to another question (don’t have details in my notes) she again mentioned that using military means may be a necessity but our tools need to be broadened.

In response to a question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she mentioned she had come across Palestinians who sincerely want a state that will co-exist peacefully with Israel but a second group see this as a religious war regardless of how the boundaries might be drawn. She said the first group was in the minority but she hopes that in light of the other regional threats that the Arab nations might empower this group to seek a real peace.

The last question was why are these problems of extremism in Islam an indictment of the entire religion. In her response she makes it clear that any “unreformed” religion is potentially a threat and said that in the West this reform had happened (she mentioned that even the Vatican had to make reforms in recent decades). She mentioned visiting the Salem Witch Museum and seeing the texts used to condemn people for sorcery. She said that’s where unreformed religions belong, in the museum. The problem with Islam is that it is still in the 7th century and that increasing numbers of Muslims view the Koran and hadiths as a driving manual.

The dissidents and reformers must be empowered and must push for doctrinal change in Islam.  She pointed out that the huge demonstrations in Eqypt overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood were opposing the imposition of Sharia law as were the 2009 demonstrators in Iran.

She made three final remarks:

Reminded us that her community had no interest in jihad until the arrival of the Preacher Teacher.

We should not be in bed with the Saudis who spread intolerance.

“A world not led by America will be a really bad place to live in.”

There are 33 comments.

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  1. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    It’s one of my dreams to hear her speak and meet her someday. She also is married to another of my favorite writers Niall Ferguson.

    • #1
  2. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Thanks so much for the report Mark.  She’s an amazing woman.

    • #2
  3. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Byron Horatio:It’s one of my dreams to hear her speak and meet her someday.She also is married to another of my favorite writers Niall Ferguson.

    She’s married to Niall Ferguson?  Really?

    • #3
  4. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Yes, they had a son together a few years ago. He dedicated his previous book to her.

    • #4
  5. Boomerang Inactive
    Boomerang
    @Boomerang

    Thank you for this great report! It’s the next best thing to being there.

    • #5
  6. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Byron Horatio:Yes, they had a son together a few years ago.He dedicated his previous book to her.

    Wikipedia confirms so it must be true.  Who knew?  Looks like he ditched his former wife for her too.  Sketch.

    • #6
  7. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    Thank you so much for going and bringing us such a thorough report.  I would dearly love to hear her speak some day.

    • #7
  8. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    I like her.  Is she as charismatic in person as she is on television?

    • #8
  9. user_657161 Inactive
    user_657161
    @SimonTemplar

    Like.  What / who is a Preacher Teacher?

    • #9
  10. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Zafar:I like her. Is she as charismatic in person as she is on television?

    Yes, she is.  Her speaking style is direct and clear but not strident or overbearing.  She could almost be described as soft-spoken.

    • #10
  11. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Simon Templar:Like. What / who is a Preacher Teacher?

    She used the term to describe the Islamic preacher who came to her village when she was 15 and whose name she did not use in her talk.  More broadly it means those Islamist who preach hate and intolerance and, though she did not say so directly, are often funded by the Saudis.

    • #11
  12. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Thank you for this excellent report.

    It is rewarding to finally hear Muslims pushing back on jihad. Unfortunately, our government has done pretty much nothing along these lines. I have been saying this for a long time, but no one hears.

    We fought the Cold War via think tanks, positional papers on why communism was bad and democracy and freedom was good. There is no such intellectual war going on today with Islam. Only the occasional voice of one like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Last night I heard an interview on Megan Kelly with a Jasser I believe, who is an American muslim who was pushing back on the Islam we see in the Middle East.

    As Ali so clearly points out, you cannot win a war with bullets. You need intellectual and economic weapons before the bullets become effective. Ask the French in Vietnam and Algeria. “War” is a multifaceted thing, not just soldiers.

    • #12
  13. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Thanks for the report.  I’m glad she was not interrupted and treated rudely.  Maybe there is some hope for our campuses.  I’ve heard her on TV and always been impressed by how articulate she is.  She’s very beautiful too–those cheek bones!

    • #13
  14. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    She’s the wrong advocate. She’s secular, being as she is because of agnostic philosophies and not because of a peaceful interpretation of Islam manifested in action. Thus, she offers no hope for reform in Muslim-majority nations. They won’t listen to her.

    If she can awaken many Westerners to the horrors of sharia, to terrorists in our midst, and to the two-faced diplomacy of the Arabs, then that’s great. But Western pundits often hold her up as hope for Islamic communities, and that she is not. That no proudly secular person can ever be.

    • #14
  15. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Devereaux:Thank you for this excellent report.

    It is rewarding to finally hear Muslims pushing back on jihad. Unfortunately, our government has done pretty much nothing along these lines. I have been saying this for a long time, but no one hears.

    . . .

    As Ali so clearly points out, you cannot win a war with bullets. You need intellectual and economic weapons before the bullets become effective. Ask the French in Vietnam and Algeria. “War” is a multifaceted thing, not just soldiers.

    Yes, it was interesting to hear about often she emphasized that military action could only take care of immediate problems and that only tackling those who preach hate would solve things longer term.

    • #15
  16. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Aaron Miller:She’s the wrong advocate. She’s secular, being as she is because of agnostic philosophies and not because of a peaceful interpretation of Islam manifested in action. Thus, she offers no hope for reform in Muslim-majority nations. They won’t listen to her.

    If she can awaken many Westerners to the horrors of sharia, to terrorists in our midst, and to the two-faced diplomacy of the Arabs, then that’s great. But Western pundits often hold her up as hope for Islamic communities, and that she is not. That no proudly secular person can ever be.

    I’m unfamiliar with her writings so don’t know if she would consider herself secular but the thought did occur to me as I listened to her.  She said two things that sounded contradictory to me, (1) that unreformed Islam is from the 7th century and should be in a museum and (2) Islam in her, and many other communities, was fine until the intolerant preachers showed up.  My take away was that she might reconcile those thoughts by believing that Islam is a fine faith “as long as you don’t take it too seriously” and that she feels the same applies to  every other religion.

    • #16
  17. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    The one point I have gotten out of the many threads on Islam this week on Ricochet is that there has been no reformation or enlightenment for them.  Christianity owes a lot to its brave heretics.

    • #17
  18. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Minor correction.  I used the terms “community” and “village” to describe where Hirsi Ali grew up.  I went back and looked at my notes and she exclusively used the word “community”.  The use of the term “village” might be taken to imply she grew up impoverished, which she did not and she did not imply it in her talk.

    • #18
  19. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Thank you for this post! Isn’t she simply a marvel to listen to? (And she wears Louboutins, too.) :)

    I highly recommend reading Infidel, Nomad, and The Caged Virgin. Hirsi Ali’s harrowing experience crossing between the borders of Somalia and Ethiopia to rescue family members is an amazing tale; she is truly a woman of courage and conviction. The best part of her lectures (I heard one in New York and one in D.C.) is her ability to confound her critics during the ‘question and answer’ periods afterwards!

    • #19
  20. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Cato Rand:

    Byron Horatio:It’s one of my dreams to hear her speak and meet her someday.She also is married to another of my favorite writers Niall Ferguson.

    She’s married to Niall Ferguson? Really?

    Don’t ask. This was not her finest moment but I have chosen to ignore it.

    • #20
  21. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Mark: I’m unfamiliar with her writings so don’t know if she would consider herself secular but the thought did occur to me as I listened to her.

    From a Muslim perspective, she’s worse than secular: she’s an apostate.

    “Hirsi Ali had renounced her faith after terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and religious extremists threatened to assassinate her.”

    http://www.mprnews.org/story/2007/03/21/midday2

    • #21
  22. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Tuck:

    Mark: I’m unfamiliar with her writings so don’t know if she would consider herself secular but the thought did occur to me as I listened to her.

    From a Muslim perspective, she’s worse than secular: she’s an apostate.

    “Hirsi Ali had renounced her faith after terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and religious extremists threatened to assassinate her.”

    http://www.mprnews.org/story/2007/03/21/midday2

    Yes, she has spoken about the fatwa placed upon her and this was one of the reasons the Dutch govt worked ardently to get her out of the country; her security was “too expensive.” For shame!

    • #22
  23. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Tuck:

    Mark: I’m unfamiliar with her writings so don’t know if she would consider herself secular but the thought did occur to me as I listened to her.

    From a Muslim perspective, she’s worse than secular: she’s an apostate.

    “Hirsi Ali had renounced her faith after terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and religious extremists threatened to assassinate her.”

    http://www.mprnews.org/story/2007/03/21/midday2

    Yes, since Aaron made his comment I’ve done some further research and it seems she considers herself an atheist.

    • #23
  24. Hydrogia Inactive
    Hydrogia
    @Hydrogia

    Yes Yes, Hirsi Ali!!! and Pamela Gellar,  Noni Darwish and Bridgette Gabriel.

    When we all live under Sharia law, this is the harem I dream of.

    • #24
  25. user_657161 Inactive
    user_657161
    @SimonTemplar

    Hydrogia:Yes Yes, Hirsi Ali!!! and Pamela Gellar, Noni Darwish and Bridgette Gabriel.

    When we all live under Sharia law, this is the harem I dream of.

    Who are Noni and Bridgette?  Plus, thought you only got three.

    • #25
  26. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Thank you for doing this. I hold two degrees from Yale and have in the past been appalled at what went on. President Salovey, whom I met sixteen months ago, did himself proud.

    • #26
  27. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Paul A. Rahe:Thank you for doing this. I hold two degrees from Yale and have in the past been appalled at what went on. President Salovey, whom I met sixteen months ago, did himself proud.

    I’ve been favorably impressed with Yale’s direction over the past few years, and was especially pleased to see Prof. Salovey’s appointment. He has a good track record both as a professor and an administrator. He’s the real deal, IMO. Yale will never be Hillsdale, but it has a strong culture of rigor and intellectual honesty.

    • #27
  28. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Son of Spengler:

    Paul A. Rahe:Thank you for doing this. I hold two degrees from Yale and have in the past been appalled at what went on. President Salovey, whom I met sixteen months ago, did himself proud.

    I’ve been favorably impressed with Yale’s direction over the past few years, and was especially pleased to see Prof. Salovey’s appointment. He has a good track record both as a professor and an administrator. He’s the real deal, IMO. Yale will never be Hillsdale, but it has a strong culture of rigor and intellectual honesty.

    I’ve heard very favorable comments on him from the people I know at Yale.

    • #28
  29. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Marvelous, Mark!  Many thanks for the front-row seat…

    • #29
  30. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Thank you for this excellent report, Mark. By the time my husband and I got there to hear her (6:55) the line was almost to the Fox news truck. Then a man in a suit made it clear the room in which she would be speaking was already packed and there was no way we’d be getting in.
    Most people continued to stand in line after he told us this the first time. And many people were still standing at the bottom of the steps in front of the door when he told us this the third time. It looked like the young people wanted to make it clear to anyone looking on that they stood for her right to speak.
    I was so grateful for the crowd, and for the William F. Buckley Center, and felt so free standing there on a beautiful evening with those well behaved young people, that I didn’t even mind about not being able to get in to hear her. Sombody said her talk would be on the Yale Daily News. Now that I have a chance (It’s been a really busy day.) I’m going to check.

    • #30

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