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" The right to think, to speak, and to write in freedom and without fear is ultimately a more sacred thing than any religion. It matters more ...because without it all other freedoms are unattainable. How can you fight for any other freedom if you can't even speak up in defense of it?" — Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Hamas is extreme in its ideology, which is radical Islamist. They have absolutely no desire to resolve their conflict with Israel in the ways that Western leaders hope and expect -- which is settling the conflict by accepting what we have been calling a two‑part state for a very long time. That is not the objective of Hamas. The objective of Hamas is to destroy the State of Israel. Keeping the conflict going is, in a way, beneficial to them as a group even if it hurts normal people.
As long as Hamas holds onto that stance, stays with that extreme position and remains intransigent, the problem will never be resolved. I forget the count of the number of intifadas that we have seen or are going to see.
We have seen this play out over decades: the Israeli government will weaken Hamas's military position, then Hamas regroups, restocks, and starts the whole confrontation again from scratch. They have been digging tunnels underneath Israel, and they have been using Palestinian children, Palestinian women, and the Palestinian elderly, just normal average citizens, as a front and as human shields, cleverly exploiting public relations tactics and Western sensitivities in the process.
Regardless of who is leading Israel, when Israel defends itself, Hamas can pretend, through its public relations and propaganda materials, that Israel provoked the attack and that Israel is wantonly killing women and children. In fact, that is not the case. It is much more complicated than that. In short, I would say that Hamas, as an organization and as a movement, does not attach any value to the lives of Palestinians and is willing to use Palestinians as collateral damage for public relations purposes: the common man, as far as Hamas is concerned, is readily expendable.
As long as Hamas is in place and is presenting itself as the voice and as the leadership of the Palestinians, then, unfortunately, this problem is not going to be resolved.
Mahmoud Abbas's "Palestinian Authority" is no authority. He and his organization are corrupt. They have been selling out the Palestinian population for a long time. One has to ask if peace with Israel is in their interest — as they perceive it — also.
In that sense, the Palestinians are unfortunate to have one leader who is corrupt and really does not care very much about them and may even want the conflict to continue so that he can continue to cash in on international handouts, the EU, America and so on; and then have as the other group, Hamas. This terrorist deadly group, also does not care about Palestinian lives. That is where the problem lies.
The Palestinians in a sense find themselves without ethical representation: ordinary Palestinians are being used by their leaders who seek to bolster their own position and power base. It is a mistake to view either Hamas or the PA as "representing" the interests of the average Palestinian. Both Hamas and the PA are deeply cynical: if they wished to increase the well-being of the average Palestinian, they would pursue peace. Peace with Israel, however, is not necessarily in the self-interest of either the PA or of Hamas as they themselves currently view their interests.
This brings us to Iran. Since Iran's revolution in 1979, the Iranian regime has made it clear it is working towards the destruction of Israel. It is important to make a distinction between the regime, which is Islamist, and the Iranian population. A considerable number of Iranian citizens abhor their own regime, as they have been demonstrating for years, and want nothing more today than to have that regime go away.
The threat to Israel from the Iranian regime is more profound than the one that Hamas presents. Hamas is an enemy, but it is a much weaker enemy than Iran, which is determined to go ahead and develop a nuclear weapon with the sole objective of destroying Israel.
It would be best if the Biden administration would continue with the previous administration's policies towards Iran -- which was to compel the Iranian government to give up the development of these nuclear weapons if they want to become a part of the international community. There, we should not compromise, but all indications are that the American officials who originally negotiated the JCPOA during the Obama Administration are desperate to get back to it, even in the face of aggression and weakness by the Iranian regime.
The United States and Europe, if they have got one thing wrong about radical Islam and its leadership, it has been the Muslim Brotherhood, its affiliate organizations and groups sympathetic to it. The Muslim Brotherhood is able to play Western governments and Western media associations in a way that they have failed to play -- until recently -- Arab Muslim countries.
The Muslim Brotherhood right now is illegal in Saudi Arabia, in the United Arab Emirates and in Egypt, among other countries. That is one reason why Hamas is so desperate, with the help of Iran, to cling onto their leadership position, which they have been losing because they have lost their legitimacy.
The Muslim Brotherhood is very much active on American soil, in the UK, and in many other Western countries. Their front organizations pretend to be humanitarian, charitable, educational or religious organizations. In its world view, in its ideal vision for society, the Brotherhood is not that different from that of violent groups such as Al‑Qaeda or ISIS. Where they differ is on the tactics to get there. It is coated in a language that is appealing to the leadership – whether it be the media or the political and policy‑making community – and especially appealing to Westerners, often including support for "democracy". After all these years, it is probably high time that we expose the Muslim Brotherhood for what it is.
First, it is important to realize that the threat of radical Islam may have faded away from the desks of policy‑makers in the United States, and maybe even some other countries, but it has not gone away; it is as potent as ever.
If anyone is paying attention, Islamists have taken over whole swaths of territory in Africa. They are treating countries such as Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Mali, you name it, all of these countries, my home country of Somalia, these are the new bases for all sorts of Islamists, from Al‑Qaeda to the regrouping of ISIS. For our leaders, it is so important to realize that this threat is not gone, this ideology is not gone, but continues to thrive here in the United States. ISIS has been weakened but not defeated.
Another problem that concerns me is Muslim women. The entire moral framework that governs the relationship between men and women is based not only on Islam (the Shariah) but also on tribal or clan relations and the "honor" which can be tarnished by the reputed immodesty of women. There is a distinction that they make between good women and bad women, modest women and immodest women, virtuous women and women who are not virtuous. This is mostly based on reputation and rumors rather than on actual behavior: a woman can be virtuous, but one unsubstantiated rumor about her that gains traction can be catastrophic for the honor of her tribe or family. It puts women in an extremely difficult position.
The women who are considered virtuous, they are the ones who comply with those rules of staying at home, covering yourself, and being submissive to your male guardians, your father, your brother, your husband, and so on. You operate under those rules. There are women who not only comply with those rules but who also enforce them.
Now, there are women who really want no trouble at all, they just want to emancipate themselves from this straitjacket. They want to go to school. They want to work. They want to live like the average European woman or American woman -- fend for themselves and control their own destiny. Those are the women that are regarded as abnormal by the people around them. Very often, they are regarded as immodest, unchaste, and sexualized. Those women are seen as prey because they are unprotected because they have removed themselves from that ruling framework.
When men from these parts of the world come to Europe and they look at European women, they see unprotected women, women who are not protected by their male guardians. You can see the logic of the misunderstanding. We can help them by empowering the women who want to emancipate themselves.
Ten and 20 years ago, we were talking about how can we help women from different parts of the world? Right now, in Europe and in America, we are enmeshed in our own ideological problems. A lot of it is navel‑gazing, but a lot of it is really pathological -- if you look at some of this woke ideology, where white people are not allowed to say anything positive or negative about people of color, black people.
When you say, How can I help Arab women, or Muslim women, or women in the developing world, you are very quickly going to be told to mind your own business, and who the hell do you think you are as a white woman to be imposing your values on others? This is the world we live in now.
We can begin to change things by continuing to build on the common humanity that America and the constitutions of many European countries also represent, which is an emphasis on the human being as an individual and to be in search of our common humanity regardless of our skin colors, gender, and all the rest of it.
When you approach it that way, any human being who is suffering, regardless of their color, regardless of their geographical location, whatever language they speak, awakens your compassion, your empathy, and your sympathy. I hope that we can do that -- so an African, or an Arab, or anyone from any part of the world will feel empathy with a white person who is suffering and the other way around. That is where the message of common humanity is powerful. That is the only way to defeat these ideologues who are trying to divide us.
Of course, every country is different. There are countries that simply cannot ignore the rise of Islam. Look at what is going on in France. They have their own problems. Parts of Paris, parts of Marseille are now completely locked in with this confrontation between what they call Islamist separatism, which for decades they pretended did not exist.
Many French intellectuals were trying to sound the alarm for decades and were demonized -- and continue to be demonized. If you look at some of the entrenched, established Islamist groups in France, the ideology is just like that of Hamas. They reject the French Republic as much as Hamas rejects the Israeli government. It is like having an alien state within the state. They call it a parallel society. They have passed a bill where they are going to try to mitigate that. I hope it is not too late. If that infrastructure exists within a country that has both taken in a considerable number of Muslims and has an infrastructure of dawa -- proselytizing the ideology of radical Islam -- whether Germany, Sweden, or the UK -- the objective of the leadership of that infrastructure is to create these parallel states. None of these countries can pretend that the problem has gone away or that it affects just France – that "it doesn't affect us" -- that would be a mistake.
There are different kinds of feminists -- some whose objective is to lobby for women to shatter the glass ceiling and to achieve positions of leadership in corporations and so on. Those feminists are not really looking out for working‑class women who are affected negatively by immigration, especially immigration from Muslim‑majority countries. Then there are feminists who have drifted away from the mission of fighting for women's rights and women's liberation. Their stated objective is to fight the phantom of "toxic masculinity." At this moment, what we really lack is a credible, legitimate, feminist organization or movement that articulates the problems that working‑class women are facing. Those feminists would much rather be attacking Israel or Western democracies such as America. You have the feminists who are on this mission drift. They do not have to be from the left.
When we have immigration, especially with the emphasis on immigration from Muslim‑majority countries, in those countries, men have a different attitude to women than the relationship between European men and European women, and American men and American women.
When those men come ‑‑ and they are coming in large numbers to Europe ‑‑ they continue to behave towards women ‑‑ in this instance European women, not immigrant women ‑‑ in the ways that they were used to behaving towards their local women. Right now, I do not see a feminist movement or organization that is addressing this issue in a meaningful way: there are some individual feminists who do speak out but they do so at significant risk.
Most of the victims, most of the women who are affected by the negative unintended consequences of this immigration, are working‑class women in working‑class neighborhoods. These women also share certain conditions with immigrant Muslim women.
Maybe now it is time for immigrant women and the working‑class women of Europe, in the countries that took in large numbers of Muslim men -- like Sweden and Denmark, where on the front‑line you see Muslim women, women who are previously from Kurdistan or Turkey, and other North African countries -- to work together and bring about a movement or a coalition that comes out and articulates this problem.
What we are seeing happen to women is what has been happening to us for decades. Everyone has been looking away. It is tragic. There are a number of Muslim women, individuals, who were able to escape their families. The oppression really comes for these women... from their own families, from brothers, fathers, husbands, cousins, nephews.
Some of these individual women have been able to escape. The majority of Muslim women who live in Europe have seen their status actually go down because these neighborhoods have become ghettos.
There were women and girls who were able to find a way of advancing their own rights, going to school, finding jobs, staying in those jobs, and most important of all, finding their own sexual autonomy, instead of having to face forced marriages.
Things are going backward, tragically, for these immigrant women because these ghettos apply the Islamist's social controls that are applied in the countries of origin. Many women in France, Sweden and Germany say that their neighborhoods are really not very different from the countries from which they came.
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Question: Do you think it is possible that the men are happy with the current arrangement, as it provides a free workforce at home, just as slavery did, and that therefore, they are fighting not to change it?
Hirsi Ali: If you speak to immigrant men who are well assimilated into various European countries, what they explain is that some of the immigrant Muslim men who perpetrate sexual misconduct in Europe face almost no consequences.
Even when they face consequences, they think of it as a joke. The deterrents that are in place in many of these European countries do not seem to be convincing, or else fail to make an impression on the perpetrators and on potential perpetrators.
Also, the men who are coming from Syria, Iraq, even as far as Bangladesh and Pakistan, or Somalia and Eritrea, they have entrenched prejudices against European women. They look at white women, and they see them from Hollywood, they see them in pornographic movies, and they think when they go to Europe, that is what they are going to encounter.
Women, they think, are going to have sex with them readily. Then the reality hits, and they see that this is not the case, then they use force and act in groups, and do not understand why they are being punished when the women are out and about. The women are in the parks. Women are going to work, they are dressed as they please. The men are very confused by that.
Some of the Muslim men who have spent years in European countries are saying that really the emphasis should be on integration. As soon as these men arrive, they have to be acquainted with the norms and values that prevail in Europe. Instead of leaving them to be miseducated by either Islamists or the young men who continue to be a menace to women, their own women, and others.
Where I grew up, I was raised to believe that unless you had almost your entire body covered, you were regarded as naked. When I first encountered women in parts of Germany and the Netherlands who were in tank tops, and shorts, and mini-skirts, and out and about during the day and all hours of the night I thought this was crazy. It was a revolution. It was shocking. I would ask the people around me, "What is this? How do you maintain order with this type of interaction between men and women?" and they explained to me that it is attainable, that one can ingrain into young boys and young men to be respectful towards women and to restrain their sexuality.
What if you have hundreds of thousands of young men who come from a society with the opposite norms, and they come into various parts of Europe and they have not had this kind of education? They just come, they are shocked, and then they act, and people react. It is a huge problem, but there have been lots and lots of journalists, commentators, scholars who have been warning European leaders for decades about this collision of values, this clash of cultures and values. They have all been ignored or demonized as racists and xenophobes.
Then, when you sit in these parliamentary sessions and other conferences, seminars, and so on where the issue is talked about, you always have a number of people who say, "Who are we as Europeans to impose our values on minorities?"
Now, women are reaping the fruits of that misguided approach. Instead of seeing an assimilation of the people who are coming into European societies, what you are seeing is an adaptation of women who are now feeling unsafe in the public space and adopt some of the survival mechanisms that Muslim women use -- which are, I cannot leave the house when it is dark, or I need someone to accompany me, or I have to buy pepper spray, or I wanted to go out tonight for dinner or out with friends to the pub but I'll just forego that because it is not safe anymore.
European women are beginning to make the exact same considerations that Muslim women are used to making back home in any Muslim country. There is this erosion of women's ability to access the public space. It seems gradual. You cannot see it immediately. If you go from America, you obviously go to the beautiful cities, and the museums, and the restaurants, and you miss out on a lot of this.
If you really go to the working‑class neighborhoods, you will see that this problem is profound. It is barely addressed at the moment.
Question: How could we help the education of women in, say, Southeast Asia without having these women threatened and tortured as Malala Yousafzai was?
Hirsi Ali: With the Internet now, there are opportunities for women that we did not have before. Where we can connect like‑minded people with like‑minded people. It's just that there is this constant struggle within the West of trying to undermine the values that are the tools of emancipation and dismissing them as white supremacy, or colonialist, or ethnocentric.
As long as we can resist that, we will be able to maintain the rights and freedoms that we have already achieved for women in the West and hopefully spread it to other parts of the world.
We do have to resist this notion that the ideas of freedom, equality, individualism, and objectivity, and so on, and institutions that safeguard due process, that this is all just white supremacy. It is appalling to watch what is going on here.
Step number one is to say, integrate into what? What is acceptable, and what is not acceptable? If you look at the subject of "Prey," this is really a clash of values. It is the way we view women in the West and how different it is in the way women are viewed in the Arab and Muslim world.
Now, if we take in hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Muslims, do we sit back and say, well, you can continue to treat women as you like, it is your prerogative, it is none of our business -- even though you now want to build a future within our societies?
Do we say, there are red lines that you cannot cross, and we are going to uphold our norms and values, and particularly, our laws? For me, integration or assimilation means that you uphold those laws, and values, and norms, and that you tie credible consequences to those who refuse to abide by the laws.
If men are organizing groups, and they go on the rampage against women, they harass, they grope, they gang-rape, and you send them to prison for a few years where they watch television, and play sports, and come out and do this all over again, that is not a credible way of dealing with the problem.
Question: You have been a Dutch parliamentarian. What are your thoughts, please, about China and what the US should be doing there?
Hirsi Ali: For years China has been marketing itself as having an alternative to, say, Western liberal values. What we are now seeing is its values are tyrannical... I'm not talking about the whole of China.
Again, as in Iran, we need to make a distinction between the communist regime and the people. The communist regime of China is violating human rights, stealing intellectual property everywhere, exploiting the continent of Africa and other countries, and it is trying to dismantle the liberal order that was established and is led by the United States and its allies.
It is a big threat. I am not a China expert, but it is common sense to say that the United States of America and other Western allies really should be extremely serious about confronting this expansionist attitude of China. I also want to mention the treatment of the Uighurs.
It is incredible that China is now lecturing us about how racist our systems are, when in fact, they are interning more than 1 million people, destroying their culture, subjecting Uighur women to forced sterilizations and systematic rape. Many people have used the word genocide, and I think it applies. We are sitting back and doing nothing about it.
Obviously, there is a grumble here and a grumble there, but right now, I have not seen any kind of organized policy of the US and her allies to stop China from treating people like this. Where we show weakness, that emboldens China, and not just China, but Iran and all other tyrants of the world.
Question: How can one even begin to turn around the lies and information?
Hirsi Ali: My assumption is that, as human beings, if we are open to learning, we can learn. We can change our minds. We can change our behavior. For some people, it is really just a matter of exposing them to different worldviews and different ways of doing things. For others, they need to be incentivized in a different way. You reward good behavior and you punish bad behavior -- the carrot and stick. Half of the problems that we have been seeing in Europe is the punishment and the legal frameworks: prosecuting, sending people to prison, fines, and other punishments that they have in place -- for whatever reason, they do not seem to make an impression on some of the perpetrators. When I talk to men who have come to Europe, they say that what would make an impression on them is to be sent back to the country that they came from.
One of the reasons, is that the families have invested so much in these young men to send them to Europe. For them to be sent back, their families are going to be met with the shame and the embarrassment that their child was sent back.
Another incentive is for each of these individuals to make their way from South Asia, from the Middle East, or from Africa, it is really an arduous journey. Many people die. Many of them are traumatized. They feel... It takes quite a lot of grit to just make that crossing. If they fully understand that if they commit a crime, there is a likelihood that they are going to be sent back, that might work as a deterrent. These options have to be considered.
They are not being considered by the European leadership because of other legal frameworks that they have in place, such as the human rights treaties, the asylum framework. All of that has to be looked at. It is complex, but it can be done.
Question: What are your thoughts about family violence?
Hirsi Ali: Honor killings, honor violence, all sorts of traditional and sometimes Islamist practices that in America we pretend happen elsewhere but are happening right here.
We have been exposing them, and we have been getting good feedback. We have been training police, social workers, other service providers, schools, to recognize these problems, and to help those who are affected in appropriate ways that save their lives, and then help them onto a path where they can have a life of quality.
With honor killings, we are trying. There was a gentleman who ran over his daughter. The whole family, the brothers, the mother, they all collaborated in this, but only the father is put away for the crime of killing his daughter and maiming the daughter's best friend.
It was very difficult to educate Americans on this because it is extremely difficult for Americans to understand a parent killing a child, or an entire network of the family and extended family, collaborating to kill that child or that member of the family because of behavior that in America is just normal.
Wearing makeup, having a boyfriend, dressing as you please. One of the ways we are trying to educate people is to say that before it gets to an honor killing, there is this long road of honor violence --where the individual who is seen to be bringing shame upon the family is coerced in so many different ways.
They are beaten. They are put under house arrest, they are made to stay at home. Their clothes are taken away. Their phones are taken away.
It is only over a period of time when that individual persists in that behavior -- continues to see the boyfriend she is not supposed to see, continues to dress in the way she is being told not to -- that the family come together and say that it is now time to eliminate her because it is the only way that they can recover their honor. When they do that, it is the whole family often that know about it.
It is most important that people understand this because the more people who are involved, the more that there is a likelihood that if they knew, they also could be punished for their involvement, for their collaboration, even for their silence -- and that they would go to the police and say, look, this thing is about to happen, we need to stop it.
Question: What would you say to the people who have been so obstructive to you, both in canceling your appearance at Brandeis, and now in Congress, who rather have a different view from yours? What would you say to them?
Hirsi Ali: This all comes into the cancel culture. When I was canceled from Brandeis, like many other people at that point, I attributed it to this narrow group of Islamists who would claim the status of victimhood. They said that if I came to Brandeis, they would not feel safe, or their human rights were violated.
By saying these things and getting the signatures of lots of people from faculty and other students -- and that was a minority at the time -- the president of the school and the board, they capitulated and they said, "Okay, so we are going to disinvite you."
I just thought that this was something only within the realm of dealing with the obstacles that radical Islam puts in the way of open debate. To my shock and horror, I am seeing this thing has spread, and that it has nothing to do with Islam.
The Islamists are exploiting the opportunity, but cancel culture and these post‑modernist ideologies were born and developed in our own universities, and they are affecting everyone right now. This thing is spreading on to schools.
It is a relatively new ideology. It has been mainstreamed, and in many ways, it is more dangerous than Islamism because it is affecting the mainstream, affecting everyone – often for very trivial infringements. I have colleagues, professors who are terrified of publishing papers, of giving lectures, of sharing their views, for fear of being fired, canceled, shamed. It is really horrific. Many of them are just speaking the truth.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of nine books and a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is also the founder of the AHA Foundation, a nonprofit "committed to preserving, protecting, and promoting Western freedoms and ideals."
This article is based on a briefing to Gatestone Institute.