In an interview published on Monday, Ayaan Hirsi Ali talked to Die Welt about the current upheavals in the Muslim world in reaction to the West’s “blasphemy” against Islam and its prophet.
Many thanks to Hermes for the translation:
“The West should finally defend its values”
She is threatened for having criticising Islam: the Somali-born Dutch publicist Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks about the revolts in the Muslim world and the reactions to them.
Die Welt: A new episode of worldwide violence and protests against the insults to the prophet Mohammed has begun — now sparked by an insignificant YouTube video. In the past there has been a Fatwa against the author Salman Rushdie, violent protests against the Danish Mohammed cartoons, and also against you — your film about women in Islam. And your collaborator in the making of this film, Theo Van Gogh, was assassinated by militant Muslims, after which you had to disappear. Is there something different in these protests compared to the previous ones?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I would say that these revolts come from a single mold, because all have a common origin: a political ideology embedded in a 1400-year-old religion and culture which leaves no place for criticism towards its founding father and its sacred texts. As soon as it comes to the Koran and the Prophet, the Muslims feel insulted by any work they consider to be disrespectful regarding these two symbols: from the actual Koran-Project in Germany, which represents a serious scientific work, to the infamous video from YouTube. For the average Muslim, these are both equally attacks against their faith.
Die Welt: A difference from past protests is that these are taking place following the Arab spring. In the meantime, people can now express their opinions and have elected leaderships like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Islamists are now in the mainstream and they are as angry as those people the West has otherwise branded as the militant sector. How do you evaluate this?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: What we see as a result of the protests in the Arab World is an aversion towards tyrannical governments — regardless of whether it is a secular dictator or a religious monarchy. We see — and this is something I’ve always said — a strong support for governments which have as their basis political Islam, in the countries where the dictatorships were overthrown. The mainstream of the Brotherhood has never made a secret of their approval of a kind of political and moral frame based on Islamic legal principles. That’s why we should not be surprised that the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have felt offended due to the negative representation of their moral guidelines.
Die Welt: While US President Barack Obama holds onto freedom of speech, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that insulting the prophet cannot be considered freedom of speech. Are these opposed positions compatible?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: For me this is a symbol of the “clash of cultures”, which was described by Samuel Huntington in 1993. It is an unpleasant reality which both cultures are facing: there are certain values regarding which their upholders accept no compromises. PM Erdogan works tirelessly in the name of the Islamic nations belonging to the OIC to put forward initiatives through the channels of international legislation for a law banning blasphemy.
President Obama has tirelessly told the Islamic world that America is seeking for friendship and peace with the Muslims all around the world. He vowed to retire the American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He did nothing when dictators with ties to the USA were overthrown. He offended Israel and a part of the Jewish community living in the USA by trying to show that the Palestinians are just as much partners for the USA as the Israelis.
The reality is that none of the two leaders, or the people who elected them, are ready to give the other what he would like: neither President Obama nor any other American president will accept any compromise regarding freedom of speech. And neither PM Erdogan nor any other Muslim leader will sit back and accept blasphemies against Islamic symbols.
Die Welt: The democratization of the media means that anybody can make circulate videos all over the world — and these can be watched by everybody. This could potentially cause conflicts…
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: That’s right. Western nations are based on the principle that the free exchange of views is protected by the constitution. That is why there’s nothing sacred for producers in Hollywood or big publishing companies in New York: if a film is good, then it gets an Oscar. If it is bad, it will be torn apart by the critics. Here there are no taboos, regardless of whether it is about Jesus Christ, sex, money, gays, Jews or women.
Erdogan and Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi seemingly don’t want to understand that in a constitutional democracy, the PM or the President have neither power nor right to restrict the freedom of speech. If Obama says that the film offending Islam is disgraceful and does not represent the views of the US government, this is just his private opinion, and not a pledge to punish the creator of the film.
Die Welt: So what should the West do?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Being the sole remaining superpower, the USA faces the big challenge of avoiding any conflict, as far as possible. This turns to be even more difficult as American influence weakens and that of its enemies increases. In relation with the Muslim world, the last three decades have showed the following: the propagation of the idea that mutually exclusive moral concepts can be compatible does not solve the problem — just the contrary, it delays the unavoidable conflicts in this ideological dispute.
America’s keenness to hold a different view regarding freedom of speech will remain as small as the Muslims’ acceptance of the fact that insulting their religious icons goes unpunished. The only way out of this is a true discussion in which each party would try to prove to the other that its respective moral values are superior (to those of the other). In other words, the West should finally give up moral relativism and start to defend its values. This will ultimately have a lower cost in (human) lives than aligning temporarily with dictators and tyrants.