Editors’ note: The following is an edited version of remarks delivered at The New Criterion’s gala on April 21, 2016 honoring Ayaan Hirsi Ali with the fourth Edmund Burke Award for Service to Culture and Society.
America: it’s an idea. I repeat it, it’s an idea. I’ve never felt more at home in any other place than in the United States of America. I’m at home with the idea of America. That doesn’t make me disloyal to being Somali or having lived in Kenya for several years. There are many things about Kenya and Nairobi that I’m attached to. I lived in The Netherlands and I was given a great deal of freedom. I couldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t happened to have lived in The Netherlands.
But there’s something that is unique and so exceptional about being in the United States of America and belonging to that idea of America. Four nights ago, I went to see Hamilton. Now, think about any other nation on the planet where you could have that kind of reflection on the founding fathers, all cast with African Americans and other minorities. Throughout, I thought, “I wish they were alive. I wish they could see this. I wish Thomas Jefferson could see this. I wish Alexander Hamilton could see how he was portrayed.” And maybe, in this audience, I am speaking to the choir. I know you appreciate how exceptional America is.
We have to pass on these ideas to the next generation. We often think about the next generation as our children. I have a four-year-old son. We’re teaching him about the flag and all, but he’s only interested in the swords and spears and the fighting process of it. But the next generation also includes immigrants. And we appreciate it more than you who are born here. In fact, I think that there are more immigrants willing to die for the idea of America than Millennials. I teach a class at Harvard, and there was someone who came to the Kennedy School, and he said, “I don’t care what America looks like 500 years from now. I don’t care if it’s dominated by Islam.” And I just thought, cringing, “Of course I care. I care. I don’t want the idea of America to be dominated by Islam.”
We have to pass on these ideas to the next generation.
Do you know what Jihad is? Everybody knows what Jihad is. Do you know what Da’wah is? This is critical. We are almost fifteen years from 9/11, and most Americans, and most Europeans, know what Jihad is, but they don’t know what Da’wah is. Da’wah is the process of Islamization. Da’wah is the strategy of Islamizing every single aspect of society and politics to reflect Islamic law (Shariah). Da’wah is also what leads to Jihad. If you don’t know what Da’wah is, then you will never understand Jihad. Da’wah and jihad are linked, as the Dutch intelligence agency aivd noted in a 2004 report titled From Dawa to Jihad: “The network strategy, international missionary efforts, and the interaction or even interwovenness of Dawa and Jihad demonstrate the relationship between the various forms of radical Islam and the phenomenon of radical-Islamic terrorism.” The aivd defined the risk of da’awah to free, open societies as follows:
The Dawa-oriented forms of radical Islam are not necessarily violent by nature, but nevertheless they generate important security risks. Dawa is usually interpreted as “re-Islamisation” of Muslim minorities in the West. These minorities are seen as “oppressed brothers” who should be liberated from the “yoke of Western brainwashing.” The groups focusing on Dawa follow a long-term strategy of continuous influencing based on extreme puritanical, intolerant and anti-Western ideas. They want Muslims in the West to reject Western values and standards, propagating extreme isolation from Western society and often intolerance towards other groups in society. They also encourage these Muslims to (covertly) develop parallel structures in society and to take the law into their own hands. What they mean is that Muslims in the West should turn their backs on the non-Islamic government and instead set up their own autonomous power structures based on specific interpretation of the Sharia.
It should be noted, however, that da’wah efforts of Islamization are not limited to Muslim minorities in the West.
You do not understand the threat of the day if you do not know what Da’wah is. And here we are: I’m in the company of friends, conservatives, people who care about the idea of America. And you do not understand, you do not know what Da’wah, the competing idea, is. You’re honoring me, and I’m thankful, but I almost want to say to all of you who do not know what Da’wah is, “Shame on you.” Do you know why I want to say that? Because when we look back in history to when our fathers and grandfathers and our ancestors were confronted with bad ideas, and we reflect on it, we say, in the comfort of our sofas, “How did they not see? How could they not know it? How did you not know what Hitler was up to? Well, they may not have known it in the 1930s, but then in the early 1940s, they should have known it.”
And here we are in the information age, and you don’t know what Da’wah is. Here we have a bad idea with a strategy, with agents, with resources, and you have no idea what it is. If you don’t understand what Da’wah is, you don’t understand the role that a country like Saudi Arabia plays. Our president, Barack Obama—I’m a black woman, so, I think, in the climate of today, when only black people may say negative or critical things about black people—you will permit me to say: I’m not really keen on him. But he’s our president and he represents us. And he’s now in Saudi Arabia. And when I learned that he actually didn’t like the Saudis, I thought, “Well, there’s something.” Everybody’s been asking me, is there anything you could ever like about President Obama? And I thought, “I love the fact that he doesn’t like the Saudis.” But he’s in Saudi Arabia and he’s not going to be talking about Da’wah.
You do not understand the threat of the day if you do not know what Da’wah is.
Da’wah is a project to Islamize, to transform—it’s religious imperialism. In practice, it often entails Saudi religious imperialism. And if you know where Indonesia is and what Indonesia was, and the fact that it is the largest Muslim majority country in the world, and if you see what Saudi religious influence did in Indonesia, what they did in Pakistan, what they did in various parts of Africa, then you understand what cultural imperialism is. If you don’t understand that in our age, you have absolutely no right to judge those Germans and delightful people behind the Iron Curtain who subscribed to Stalin and what came after him.
If you and I don’t understand the threat of our time, how can we judge the past? And what have we to give to the future? What have we to give to the next generation? Islam, Muslims, National Security: they baffle everyone. But they need not baffle everyone, because Islam is an idea. It’s a doctrine.
The founder of Islam, Mohammed, in Mecca, employed the tools of religion as we understand them today. He went from door to door to give his message, whatever that is. I believe in freedom of speech: it wasn’t my message, and it will never be, but that’s what he was doing in Mecca. Ten years later, he went to Medina, and he had a different message: he used force to back his ideas. Those who refused to accept his idea of one God were forced into it. The religion of Islam, as an idea, from the very beginning, was supremacist. In Mecca, they told everyone: all of your gods, whatever you worship, it’s all bad, inferior. Come to this one God. But in Medina, you had no choice, you had to come to him, otherwise you were beheaded; you were killed; your children taken in to slavery; your women taken into slavery. And there are, today, Muslims, who follow Mohammed, the founder of Islam, in his Medina rendering. Those are the Medina Muslims.
If you want to distinguish—unlike Donald Trump, who said, “all Muslims, close the doors to all of them,” pretty hysterical—between those Muslims that you don’t want to welcome, who have identified you as an enemy though you haven’t identified them as an enemy, you’re going to have to delve into the history of Mohammed. You’re going to have to understand what he said and did in Mecca and what he said and did in Medina. And there are, in the United States of America and beyond, in this incredibly interconnected world, Muslims who want to abide by Mohammed’s message beginning from Medina. They are our enemies, because they have defined us as an enemy. They are my enemies because I’m an apostate. I’m no longer a Muslim, therefore I have to be killed. They are your enemies because you are not a Muslim. And those Muslims who want to act on the Medina principles, on the principles of abrogation, of political supremacy, of the Caliphate, who don’t recognize boundaries between nations, they are our enemies. It’s very easy to define that. It should not have taken us fifteen years to get there. And we’re still not even there.
The other Muslims, those who when they invoke Mohammed do not mention Medina, are not interested in politics. They think of their religion only in terms of spirituality, of prayer rituals to God and the observance of dietary restrictions. They’re not our enemies. They’re religious. They define religion the way we define religion in the United States of America. You can be a Baptist or Jewish Orthodox, or something else, and as long as you’re not seeking to impose it on the rest of us, the rest of the world, you are practicing what we describe as freedom of religion. But if you are a Medina Muslim, you are not practicing freedom of religion. You are lying to our faces: you are saying “I’m practicing the freedom of religion,” but, in fact, you are pursuing a political doctrine, a project of using religious freedom in the West to undermine religious freedom and freedom of expression. And if you do it using Jihad, violence, law enforcement and even the military, we come after you. We understand, in this country, what violence is. We have the rule of law. We have a military that will come after you. We have law enforcement that will come after you.
One fifth of humanity is labelled Muslim. And the Medina agenda is to co-opt them.
But if you pursue the idea of Islamization, the Medina project, and you do not use violence, you are making use—or maybe abuse—of the freedom of speech, the freedom of association, the freedom of the press, all the freedoms that we have, in order to pursue your idea. The Dutch intelligence agency, the aivd, described it as follows in 2004: “Dawa-oriented radical-Salafist organisations and networks from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states strongly emphasise ‘re-Islamisation’ of the Muslim minorities in the West. . . . Their efforts are purposefully aimed at encouraging Muslims in the West to turn their back on Western values and standards.” And you know what: I’m a freedom of speech fundamentalist. I’m a First Amendment fundamentalist. I really think you can hold ideas that are abhorrent to me and to all of us. But—and here’s the big but—you have to play by the rules of the game. If you’re pushing an idea that the best thing for our society and all other societies is Sharia law or Islamic law, then I want to have the opportunity to tell my audiences, in college, in high schools, in public, why Sharia law is not really such a wonderful idea. To begin with: for women, or gays, or Jews, or Christians, or those who drink, or those who have relationships outside of marriage. I’ve just described Manhattan. But 34 percent of Muslim inhabitants in Britain will not condemn stoning adulterers and adulteresses. And this is not Manhattan, this is in Europe, where certainly at least some people have committed adultery. In Pakistan, 75 percent of the population supports the death penalty for people who leave the Islamic religion (Pew 2013). Is that tolerant?
You have to start caring about these things, if you want to share a neighborhood, a school, a class. Your children do that, with everyone else. And if these are the beliefs that are being promoted, then I invite you, please, to fight this fight in a way that you’ve been taught. You’re not Islamophobic; whatever corner you’re being pushed into, you’re not. Because, ultimately—and here’s where I think we must stand strong—if you believe that the idea of Islamic law is a bad idea, you must defend the freedom of speech. The other side either calls it “Islamophobia” or the classic name: blasphemy. If you say this about the prophet, it’s blasphemy. (“Islamophobia” is a very new term. When did it come into sway? 2006? 2005? It’s a very young idea. But before Islamophobia came around, it just used to be called blasphemy.)
One fifth of humanity is labelled Muslim. And the Medina agenda is to co-opt them: it’s to convince them that Sharia law, Islamic law, unreformed, is the best idea. That the idea of America is very bad. And that they should submit to Islam. Major resources for this cause are being pushed by countries like Saudi Arabia, where our president is. If you want to defeat or even engage with the idea of Islamic religion and Islamic law, the way to go is blasphemy. I believe in blasphemy. In fact, Surah 25, Chapter 25 of the Quran is called The Criterion, and portends to be the distinction between right and wrong. So The New Criterion, even the name itself, is blasphemic.
The idea that human beings can make their own laws based on reason is blasphemic to Islamic law.
In many ways I think it’s comical that I’m being recognized for saying men and women should be equal before the law. That’s what I’m being recognized for, pretty much. That’s what it amounts to. And that idea that men and women are equal before the law is blasphemic to Islamic law. The fact that homosexuals and heterosexuals should be equal before the law is blasphemic to Islamic law. The fact that people of different religions—Jews, Christians, those who have no faith—are equal before the law is blasphemic to Islamic law. The idea that human beings, men and women, can make their own laws based on reason, not shackled by divine law, is blasphemic to Islamic law.
The idea of America is secular. It is about the fact that we are created equal. That we make and amend our own laws. What is blasphemy to them is valuable and is law to us. And I took an oath when I became an American citizen. And my oath in my heart was: that is what I’m going to defend. Hear, hear, blasphemy.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 34 Number 10, on page 4
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