Rare is the occasion when an honored speaker delivering a keynote address chastises the audience. But if anyone deserves the right to do so on any issue, it is Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the matter of America’s ignorance about Islamic-supremacist ideology—ignorance on display again this week, in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, when American liberals have argued for gun control rather than jihad control. The moment occurred during the New Criterion’s Edmund Burke Award Gala honoring Ali for her “conspicuous contributions to the defense of civilization.”
Ali, an outspoken critic of Islam, asked the audience if it knew what Sharia was. Many hands rose. Ali then asked if the audience knew what jihad was. Practically every hand shot up. Finally, she asked how many knew what dawa was. Only a few hands went up. Ali responded:
And there you get a smattering of hands. You see, this is it. Almost—what?—15 years from 9/11 . . . a decade-and-a-half, and most Americans and most Europeans know what jihad is, but they don’t know what dawa is. And if you don’t know what dawa is—the process of Islamization, the strategy of Islamization, what leads to jihad—then you will never be able to understand jihad. You do not understand the threat of the day if you do not know what dawa is.
And here we are—I’m in a setting . . . in the companionship of friends, conservatives, people who care about the idea of America—and you do not understand, you do not know what dawa is. You don’t know what the competing idea is. You are honoring me and I am thankful, but I almost want to say to all of you who do not know what dawa is, “Shame on you.”
. . .
Do you know why I want to say shame on you? Because if you look back in history when our fathers and grandfathers and our ancestors were confronted with bad ideas, and we read those history books and . . . we sit there and we think: “How did they not see it? How could they not know it? How didn’t you know what Hitler was up to? Well, you may not have known it in the 1930s, but then in the early 1940s you should have known it!” And here we are in the information age, and we don’t know it.
If you don’t know your enemy, you can’t hope to defeat him. Our enlightened Washington theologians tell us that non-Muslims have no right to speculate as to the nature of Islam—but they simultaneously declare Islam a religion of peace that has been hijacked and perverted by nihilists.
Perhaps we should put less stock in politically correct Islamic exegesis and listen instead to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She spent her formative years living under Sharia in Africa and the Middle East, where she joined the Muslim Brotherhood. As is the custom in many such locales, she was subjected to female genital mutilation. Rather than submit to an arranged marriage in Canada, Ali escaped to the Netherlands, where she applied for political asylum. She won a seat in the Dutch parliament. In effect, she reasoned her way out of the Islamic-supremacist ideology once she arrived in the West by comparing the teachings of the core Islamic texts to those of the Western canon, which she found far superior.
Today, Ali lives under the threat of death from her former coreligionists. She is protected by around-the-clock security. For her unwillingness to accept a Western progressive’s distorted vision of Islam, she is censured and often censored. It must baffle Ali that, even as she speaks in defense of Western civilization, her fellow Westerners often seem to reject the principle of free speech.
I had the privilege of interviewing Ali prior to the Burke gala. She told me that she doesn’t wish to be treated as a hero. Speaking the truth, she said, ought to be the norm rather than the exception. She was troubled by the West’s lack of confidence in its own ideas. Free expression, she said, is the great deterrent to the global jihad.
In her devotion to classical liberal ideals and her willingness to die in defense of them, Ali is in many ways more American than those who were born here. She sought to become an American citizen because she studied intently and embraced wholeheartedly the American Idea. America is more than a landmass; it is an exceptional belief system that enables human flourishing. Islamic supremacism is not only incompatible with America but also seeks its destruction.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s life is a testament to the notion that ideas matter, and great ideas are worth defending. If America is to remain the last, best hope on Earth, we must heed her words.
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