Profile in Courage

An immigrantís tale from halfway around the world should make us think about whatís going on closer to home

As a member of Parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali advocated for refugees to be able to stay in the Netherlands after their visas expired. She was ultimately unsuccessful. But that's not what made her one of the country's most controversial politicians. (In the Netherlands, unlike here, just saying the word "amnesty" isn't enough to get you voted out of office.)

Instead, it was her critique of radical Islam.

The death threats Hirsi Ali faced were not trumped-up, Arpaio-style publicity grabs. As a fledgling politician, she collaborated with Theo Van Gogh on the film Submission, just ten minutes long but wildly inflammatory. Women were shown with verses from the Koran painted on their half-naked bodies, verses openly advocating their abuse.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
courtesy of the Goldwater Institute
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

One month after the film's première, a Muslim man shot and stabbed Van Gogh to death in the middle of a busy street. The knife thrust into Van Gogh's chest held a letter warning that Ayaan Hirsi Ali was next.

Unrest had been brewing over immigration in the Netherlands even before Hirsi Ali began speaking out. Reading Infidel, I got the sense it was perhaps something like the powder keg here in Arizona today. The Dutch resented the Muslim youths, who seemed so uninterested in their culture. They saw crime rising and their taxes subsidizing immigrants who bore baby after baby.

On some level, Hirsi Ali gave the xenophobes ammunition. She told them what they had feared: The new immigrants were not assimilating. Instead, they were clinging to their old ways, and forcing them onto a new generation even in a new country.

But Hirsi Ali's call was markedly different from that of the immigrant-bashers so vocal here today.

She didn't want migrants expelled. She just wanted them to be taught Western values.

To polite Dutch liberals, even that was horrifying. Imposing Western values on another culture implies that we know better than they. It means that not all ideas are created equal.

Indeed, Hirsi Ali insists that Islam is no religion of peace. It's dangerous. It can't be tolerated; it must be stopped.

Those words are blasphemy to some Dutch, and blasphemy to many American liberals. I was stunned to read the profiles written about Hirsi Ali in major U.S. newspapers. She is articulate, soft-spoken, and a thoughtful writer, yet because her ideas are politically incorrect, she's painted as a bomb thrower. It's easier, I guess, to tar her as a Third-World Ann Coulter than to actually grapple with her ideas.

I'm glad the Goldwater Institute didn't do that. Instead of framing her views for her, they let her talk.

While Hirsi Ali opted not to give a speech, she was interviewed on stage by the Goldwater Institute's executive director, Darcy Olsen. Their conversation was as interesting as any dinner party you'll attend this holiday season.

Hirsi Ali talked about her reaction to the events of September 11, how polite intellectuals tried to make excuses for the killers who brought down the twin towers. It's not Islam that caused the terrorists to act, they argued. Maybe it was the situation in Palestine. Maybe it was American imperialism.

"I didn't understand what they were debating about," Hirsi Ali told Olson. "It is Islam!"

The most touching line of the evening was Hirsi Ali's plea that we not abandon people to their familial traditions. People, she believes, can be taught — and should be taught.

"This is not something in our bone marrow," she said, of the Muslim proclivity to violence. "It is something we were brought up with.

"The general attitude, not just in the West but throughout the world, is that all cultures are equal," she added. "And that those of us born in misogynistic cultures must pass them on, and those in free cultures must respect our culture and let us pass it on.

"We need to fight that idea!"

I'd been feeling a Jimmy Carter-like malaise this fall. With the real-estate market crashing, and the war grinding on, it felt like this country was falling apart. The crazies on the right were screaming at the crazies on the left, and the center simply wasn't holding.

But after a mere half-hour of hearing Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak winningly about the virtues of the West, I'll admit it. I feel good about America again.

Good economy or bad, we have something wonderful in this country. We have the right ideas. Yes, we've messed up time and again, but we have this wonderful principle that all of us are created equal and this wonderful Bill of Rights that leaves us free to pursue individual happiness. That's as great as it gets.

Knowing that we have the Big Ideas nailed, I suppose we could go to war and try to spread those values by forced revolution. But it's clear from the boondoggle in Iraq — that doesn't work. As Hirsi Ali explained, the key is instead making a case for the value of freedom.

And, in the meantime, I think, with so much repression and poverty in so many nations, it becomes incumbent on this country to let in as many immigrants as we can handle, provided those immigrants are willing to work. We must find a way to let people forge new lives here, rather than condemn them to hell simply because they were born on the wrong side of the border.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

Ken Calman writes, "Where we find problems in our illegals isn't their willingness to work but their willingness to assimilate . . . many of our illegal workers who have been here for years still don't know a word of English . . ."Gosh, Mr. Calman, the degree of assimilation that prevents genital mutilation, arranged marriages, and the murder of people who bring attention to those atrocities is really quite enough for me. If my neighbors from other countries can assimilate that much while working too many hours and in too much fear to attend English classes, I'm really okay with that and I imagine the Dutch would be, too.

Ken Calman
Ken Calman

Ms. Fenske;As I read this article a reponse was formatting itself in my mind as I marveled at seeing such a right-of-center item in a generally left-of-center news venue, thinking that congratulations were due for your objectivity, not to mention courage, in pointing out the flawed (or possibly hijacked) Islam religion and the dangers in opposing the so-called religion of peace. All that changed as I read the final paragraphs.

It was disingenuous to say the least to equate a brave woman exposing a religion hijacked by fanatics and operating around the world to conduct acts of violence against the innocent, where asylum is obviously needed, with those from South of our own border who come here from no such persecution but for reasons purely of enhancing their finances.

"Willing to work" isn't really the dividing line anyway, is it? Where we find problems in our illegals isn't their willingness to work but their willingness to assimilate, the same issue you wrote about having affected The Netherlands. If you haven't yet noticed, many of our illegal workers who have been here for years still don't know a word of English. Why do you suppose that is?


Truth-seekers and -speakers have always been hated and persecuted. It most certainly happens in our own country. Remember Cassandra of Troy? Her curse was that she would always speak true prophecy but that noone would believe her.


Very good article.I am an indian ,but firstly i consider myself a human being.I appreciate the courage of Hirsi Ali in airing her views honestly.There is another writer who is fighting for humanism .Her name is Taslima Nasreen.She was forced to flee from her home country Bangladesh just because she spoke the truth.She was forced to live in exile for more than 10 years.At present she is in India.But here also she is being persecuted by islamic fundamentalists and selective secularists.It is sad that while Taslima is putting her life in line for the cause of humanism and equality,people who must protect her are ignoring her.I hope that millions of Ayans and Taslimas will emerge from the shadows to fight for humanism.

Phoenix Concert Tickets