Somalian-born writer and former Dutch Parliament member explains political versus spiritual Islam and reflects on whether her advocacy is worth putting herself in danger.
Tavis: Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former member of the Dutch parliament and the founder of the AHA Foundation. She is also the author of the international best seller “Infidel.” Her latest is called “Nomad: From Islam to America, a Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.” Ayaan, good to have you back on this program.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Thank you so much for having me back, Tavis.
Tavis: When you were last here – I’m here every day – (laughter) when you were last here we were starting to have a conversation about your view of Christianity. We’ll come back to that a little bit later in the conversation because I want to pick up on that conversation. I’ve been waiting for months to continue that dialogue.
Before we do that, though, in this book, the new one, you say unapologetically and rather frankly that your mission here is to inform the West about the danger of Islam. What danger do we need to be made aware of?
Ali: And when I say “Islam” I’m talking about Islam as a theology and as a political theory. Islam has different aspects. It has a spiritual aspect but it also has a political and a social aspect.
The spiritual aspect of praying and fasting, I have no problems with that. The political and social aspects have to do with concepts such as jihad – waging a holy war to either persuade people to become Muslim or to kill them.
The social aspect has to do with the treatment of women, and given the fact that we are now living in a world that is fast globalizing – people are coming from all different parts of the world, living here; people are leaving here and going elsewhere – I think it’s very, very important to note that not only are people moving but ideas are also moving.
So people with ideas who feel that they should introduce Sharia law, a theocracy based on Islam such as Iran, such as what the Taliban have attempted in Afghanistan, that these people with these ideas, resources, convictions, can sometimes be successful.
What I tried to do with the book as an individual who grew up with Islam and I was once myself – considered myself a member of the Muslim brotherhood, I want to say that these ideas are really not only dangerous but a lot of people are subscribing to them.
Tavis: I guess no one would argue that jihad is a dangerous and deadly political philosophy to have and to engage. I guess the question is whether or not jihad is the only way that that political involvement is expressed. Isn’t it just an example of how policy, of how people engage politically and not the whole of the activity, politically?
Ali: Well, it’s very important to note that not all Muslims subscribe to jihad.
Tavis: Precisely, yeah.
Ali: That’s really important. I don’t ever want to make the impression that all Muslims are potential terrorists or potential jihadists. But there is a movement that wants to have Islamic Sharia or Islamic war introduced, through persuasion sometimes, without using violence, and sometimes by using violence. The society that they’re aspiring to is a society that is modeled around a place like Saudi Arabia or Iran.
The point I want to make in this book is the majority of Muslims don’t even read the Qur’an. They’ve just been told what is in there is good, it’s God’s word, it’s perfect. The majority of Muslims don’t know what Muhammad exactly said.
So these people who are coming to them are building – the agents of radical Islam, the agents of jihad, the agents of Sharia are just building on the fact that most Muslims have only been told the Qur’an is great, Muhammad is infallible, and then radicalizing them. It’s very important for us to realize that.
If we do realize that, we are then able to compete with the radical agents of Islam, with the agents of jihad, for the hearts and minds of individuals who identify themselves as Muslim.
Tavis: We compete by doing what? By, as you suggest in the book, converting them as Christians?
Ali: Well, I’m not a Christian. I would like to introduce to them critical thinking and the enlightenment and secular thought. But I’ve also met, through my last years here, a number of Christians, and I’ve realized that their concept of God differs very much from that of Islam. I’ve had people who’ve read “Infidel” and who write to me saying, “I just cannot be, I just can’t fathom being an atheist. I can’t. There is a force out there, it’s a good force. I don’t want to be with Allah or Muhammad, but I just need a different kind of -” and most of them convert to Christianity.
Tavis: Are you at all concerned or are you ever concerned, put another way, that the mission, to use your word, that you are on is turning people against Islam, turning people against Muslims, because you’re so – I don’t want to say radical, but so aggressive in your approach?
Ali: Well, the mission is not to turn people against Muslims. My mission is to include Muslims into finding out that there are alternative sources of morality other than what the jihadists are offering them.
A lot of money made from oil in Saudi Arabia, in other parts in the Middle East that have that money, are using a very violent narrative, a very human-unfriendly narrative, and they’re taking it to people who are sometimes poor, sometimes middle class, and people are subscribing to those ideas.
Right now there’s no competition. There isn’t a competing propaganda. We talk about it only in terms of national security. We talk about military means, we talk about what the FBI can do, but we don’t talk about what you and I can do. Why can’t we just reach out to Muslim-Americans living here and say, “Hey, do you really believe in practicing what is in chapter 4, verse 34 of the Qur’an – “Beat the disobedient wife?” I’ll tell you most Muslims don’t want to beat their wives and don’t want to compel them to do that.
But with that justification, with that narrative, with that propaganda, more and more men are finding a reason to justify to themselves something that is truly abominably wrong.
Tavis: As I got into reading your story, and it’s obviously a very powerful narrative, I was left ultimately with this question, Ayaan, which is on the one hand you have moved away, for your own reasons, as you’ve expressed here now, you’ve moved away from practicing Islam. You don’t practice the Muslim faith on the one hand, so you moved from that.
On the other hand, you, to my mind, at least, and I could read any number of passages to point this out, to my mind, again, you almost idealize Christianity on the other hand. But here you are in the middle an atheist, and I’m trying to juxtapose all that.
You don’t want to practice the Muslim faith, you idealize Christianity, and yet you remain an atheist. That’s the part of your journey I don’t quite get. Maybe you can enlighten me.
Ali: It’s a bundle of contradictions.
Tavis: Yeah, it is. (Laughs)
Ali: Like all human individuals, I am a bundle of contradictions. I was very much, after I had written “Infidel,” very much on the side of people who say all religions are the same and all religions are inherently evil. But again, what I learned from the enlightenment is when the fact change, change your mind, and the evidence I’m seeing – and this is what I admire about some Christians, not all of them. I’m not blind to extremist Christianity.
But what I admire about Christians today is – and I would like it for the Muslims too – is that many of them have come to grapple with their faith, have come to acknowledge that there are things in the bible and things that the institution, that different churches have done that are hostile to humanity, that are hostile to gay people, hostile to women, have justified slavery, for instance.
They have come not only to grapple with it and to understand it and to acknowledge that it’s all in there, but they’ve also learned to distance themselves from that. That’s what I admire about moderate Christians. I say in the book right now we cannot speak of moderate Muslims because they still cling to the absolute idea that everything in the Qur’an is the true word of God and cannot be changed by human beings, and that the prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, left a moral guidance behind and all we can do is follow it, not question it.
Tavis: Where is the evidence for you that, for those Muslims who live in the West, that we need to challenge them, we need to convert them, we need to change them? If what we’re afraid of is jihad, all of that, at least until this present time, all of that attack, that terrorist activity, has come inside of this country from persons connected to that faith.
I guess I’m trying to understand where the evidence is that suggests that all of us who happen to be Christians or enlightened in some other way need to take on Muslims here in the West.
Ali: Okay, I think first and foremost what we have to acknowledge is we’re not going to get a monster with horns, blue in the face, looking like a dragon called jihad coming in and terrorizing us. The people who are engaged in terrorist activities look like you and me. They look like everybody else here.
Major Nidal Hasan, the military guy who in November shot 13 of his colleagues and injured 32, he’s going to be on trial pretty soon, I think this week, the young man, Faisal Shahzad, in Times Square who tried to blow innocent people that he doesn’t know up, these guys are acting on conviction. Somehow, the idea got into their minds that to kill other people is a great thing to do and that they would be rewarded in the hereafter.
Tavis: But Christians do that every single day in this country.
Ali: Do they blow people up (unintelligible)?
Tavis: Yes. Oh, Christians, every day, people walk into post offices, they walk into schools, that’s what Columbine is – I could do this all day long. There are so many more examples of Christians – and I happen to be a Christian. That’s back to this notion of your idealizing Christianity in my mind, to my read. There are so many more examples, Ayaan, of Christians who do that than you could ever give me examples of Muslims who have done that inside this country, where you live and work.
Ali: Well, I think you and I disagree, not so much on is there extremism in Christianity – I fully acknowledge that. There are people who want to take the bible and use passages from the bible as justification for violent behavior. I’m not denying that in the least. But mainstream Christians in the 21st century are more like you.
I’m an atheist, I’m not a Christian, but they are more like you – accepting of other religions and tolerant. The latest example, “South Park,” where Jesus Christ was made fun of, watching pornography, people, Christians, maybe have been annoyed by it but the producers of “South Park” were not threatened by Christians.
They were not threatened by Buddhists. They showed Buddha snorting cocaine. Muhammad, whose picture wasn’t shown, there was a line saying “censored” and he was imagined to be in a Teddy bear, some of the followers of Muhammad got very angry. A few of them posted threats about the producers, and this is very mild.
There are today – I don’t want to say, and it’s been established, not all Muslims are terrorists, we must emphasize that, but almost all terrorist activities that take place today in our time are done and justified in the name of Islam.
Now to acknowledge that, the point I’m trying to make is is it possible, is it imaginable, that we can compete with the radical jihadists for the hearts and minds of young men like Faisal Shahzad or like Nidal Malik Hasan, and I believe we can, before they get to that stage.
Tavis: I hear that point and I accept it. The only point I’m making is there are folk in the Tea Party, for example, every day who are being recently arrested for making threats against elected officials, for calling people “nigger” as they walk into Capitol Hill, for spitting on people. That’s within the political – that’s within the body politic of this country. So I accept your point and my time is up so we won’t debate that.
Let me ask as an exit question, and this is no secret; I just was reading about this in “The New York Times” the other day, an interview you gave to the magazine, so it’s no secret here, but you travel with security because there is a constant cloud, at least, of a threat against your life because of your outspokenness. Is it worth it, living under these conditions? Is it worth it?
Ali: I ask myself that question every day, and I think it’s worth fighting those who intimidate me. Those who threaten, those who try to kill people who disagree with them, I think it’s worth it. I think it’s worth continuing to fight.
Tavis: I accept that. It’s the new book from perennial now “New York Times” best-selling author Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The book is called “Nomad: From Islam to America, a Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.” Ayaan, always glad to have you on this program.
Ali: Thank you so much, Tavis. Thanks for having me.
Tavis: Thank you for your time.
Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm