Freddie Sayers: I was present at the enormous protests that took place in London over the weekend, where an overwhelmingly Muslim crowd chanted slogans in support of Palestine, full of rage at what they perceive to be the UK government’s attitude. What thoughts have you had, watching these themes you have been talking about for decades resurface over the past few weeks?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I thought of 9/11. After 9/11 happened, the reaction was: “We are all Americans now and we are horrified.” When we woke up the next morning, we realised that we had a global problem, although there was still a great deal of denial back then that what we were at war with was a particular religion and that it might be a civilisational confrontation.
In 2023, the denial — the rejection of the idea that this has anything to do with us — is very strong. Already on 8 October, there were voices saying: “This is a problem of Israel, it’s a problem of the Middle East, it’s a problem of children dying in Gaza.” The impulse to turn away from evil is extremely strong, and it’s manifesting itself on our streets. My hope is that the so-called Silent Majority will figure out a way of first acknowledging that we have a problem, identifying the nature of the problem, and then responding. And the appropriate response is not to squabble about what the police should be doing about hate crimes.
FS: Does that mean that you reject calls to ban protests, to render symbols and signs illegal? There have been many such calls since October 7, often coming from the political Right. Where do you stand on that?
AHA: I stand where I have stood for the last 20 years, which is that the speech we’ve seen in the last couple of weekends is offensive, extremely so — it borders on the criminal — but it is protected speech. These conversations about banning protest lead back to when Tony Blair was in office: the people who were pushing for hate speech laws, to ban “Islamophobia”, were Muslim associations and Muslim leadership; they said, “let’s bring back blasphemy laws, let’s ban certain kinds of speech”. And that was indulged. Then along came the woke revolution. And they took advantage of that by saying, “speech is violence”. Now we’re seeing a flip of that and we’re falling into a trap by saying, “we should apply hate speech laws”.
I looked at some of the pictures of individuals that the police were looking for. There is a woman holding a placard with a swastika inside the Star of David, another with Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman falling out of a cracked coconut. These are very offensive images, they’re full of hate, but they’re protected speech.
I think the conversation we should be having right now is: how is it possible that 300,000 people this last weekend and another 100,000 people the weekend prior — well-educated, economically integrated people — are flaunting their hatred and these immoral, vile opinions? Why is that? What’s wrong with our education system? What is wrong with our sense- and meaning-making institutions that we’re generating these folk who are on the streets?
FS: So actually, you want to see it so you know what the problem is?
AHA: Yes. I think we were kidding ourselves right after 9/11 with the idea that “these people are deprived, excluded”, and so on. But these are not people who are excluded or deprived. Among the elite, as we’re seeing in America, students at Harvard at Yale, Columbia, Stanford are coming out and celebrating what happened on the 7 October 2023. There is something so deeply wrong, it can’t be fixed with a ban. We’re avoiding the seriousness of the evil that we’re confronted with.
FS: One aspect of this is the religious question. The protests last weekend were overwhelmingly Muslim. People had come from mosques and from community groups all around England, on special buses to attend. It was very striking how that Muslim identity was clearly very, very important to this very large group of people from all walks of life. You speak with huge authority on this, because you’ve been through that journey. How should we be addressing that community in particular?
AHA: We should engage with them in the most meaningful way, and say that the religious values and the norms that they defend, that they’re willing to die for, are not of here. And make clear that we’re just as determined to stand for what we believe in.
I remember in the Nineties, Noughties, people were saying, “if you don’t like it here, go back home”. It’s not as simple as that anymore. A lot of people who believe that Hamas is completely justified in doing what they did are born and raised here, have been to school here and have their businesses here and are raising their children here. So it’s not about saying, “send these people back home”. But sooner or later there is going to be a confrontation about what it means to morally integrate into a society. Many of them are economically well integrated, but not morally.
FS: Do you have hope that in Western countries like this one, that a large Muslim community, including the more devout members of it, can be integrated in that way?
AHA: I have hope. I think my story is a story of hope. I was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, I believed in some of these things that the people out there are saying. I think if October 7 had happened when I was 16 or so, I would probably be one of those people who celebrated it. I took part in the book burning of Salman Rushdie. But I evolved, I changed, I grew. And I did that under very difficult circumstances.
In Britain or in America, or in other parts of the West, where young Muslims are bombarded with all the activism that comes from these brotherhood types — where they’ve established schools, they’ve established online platforms, they’ve established charities, they’ve basically taken control of educational meaning-making, spiritual institutions — I think we must offer something else instead. But we have to work for it and we have to agree on what it is that we want to transmit.
One of the questions that I have asked myself is: what is it that immigrants have in common with Gen Z? It seems to me that both groups have been failed by us, because we’re failing to transmit to Gen Z, just as we’re failing to transmit to immigrants who come here, what it is that they’re going to inherit. What this society is all about: its most basic, fundamental principles.
FS: How widespread do you think antisemitism is in that group? That’s also been hotly debated in recent weeks. You wrote in Infidel that when you were young, people described Jews as “physically monstrous. Everything that went wrong was the fault of the Jews. The Jews controlled the world, and that’s why we had to be pure and resist this evil influence.” How much of that hatred do you think has been transmitted to countries like the UK and France?
AHA: There has been an age-old antisemitism in Europe. The pogroms that ultimately climaxed in the Nazi doctrines and the Holocaust — that was very much European. Then along came the Islamist-driven antisemitism. When imams in mosques are preaching hatred of the Jews, they sometimes invoke Islamic sources: in the early years of the Prophet Muhammad, as he was establishing himself, the Jews betrayed him. By this account the Jews are traitors. But what then happened in the Thirties was that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and all that Nazi propaganda was adopted by the Islamists and spread in the mosques (and today of course on online platforms.) That’s what came to my neighbourhood.
As a teenager, growing up, we didn’t have any Jews in our neighbourhood. I had never seen a Jewish person because they just weren’t there. I was growing up in a not-so-comfortable part of Nairobi, Kenya. Then I came to the Netherlands and we were taken on a day out as asylum seekers. I went to Antwerp. And I was told that we were in a Jewish neighbourhood. I was stunned, and I thought: where are they? When our guide pointed to some people walking around, my answer was, “but that’s just a man”. And he said, “what did you expect?” What I was expecting, as I described in Infidel, was derived from Nazi propaganda.
I think we are waking up to the realisation that the antisemitism in Europe that we all thought had gone away after the Holocaust didn’t quite go away. We’re now seeing a marriage, an unholy alliance, between the remnants of age-old European antisemitism with Islamist antisemitism.
FUTURE OF LIBERALISM
FS: When you arrived in the Netherlands in the Nineties, you rejected the faith that you were brought up with and you fell in love with a new creed, which was Western Liberalism. You wrote that “I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage, for the world of reason and sexual emancipation. After making this voyage, I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other.” Do you still believe that’s true?
AHA: Yes, of course I do! I live it every day. When I came to the Netherlands, I discovered that it was actually possible, for instance, for men and women to interact peacefully (well, until quite recently — the woke people have created all these new problems). We had manmade governments in the West that were secular, that established rights, and protected those rights with institutions; the way universities were, you could pursue any line of inquiry without any kind of condemnation. These countries were wealthy, there was a great deal of tolerance. I fell in love with all of that.
At that point, I was contrasting it with where I had come from. In Holland, I made some atheist friends who said: this has to do with religion, we’ve all struggled with our own religious darkness and intolerance. So Christianity, they said, was exactly the same as Islam. Later on, when I met Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, I think I jumped probably too soon on that atheist bandwagon and accepted too quickly the proposition that all religions are the same, and equally bad, and equally dark. Now I think it would be intellectually dishonest of me if I said I’m still radically atheist — I’m not — but also, more importantly, if I don’t take responsibility for my part in advancing the erosion of the building blocks of this Western civilization that, as I say, I love so much.
FS: But you now say you’re worried that the secular liberalism that you fell in love with is insufficient, at a cultural level, to compete with things like Islam and other cultures that still have very strong calls to our soul. Should we no longer believe in Western Liberalism? Is it and-and or either-or?
AHA: It’s very much and-and. I think it’s very much an acceptance that classical liberalism, and equally socialism, by the way, are products of this Judeo-Christian tradition. There have been all of these debates within Christianity: tolerance, but how much? Scientific inquiry, how far do we go with that? Human rights, and where does that stop? These are all children — the Enlightenment is a child — of these Judeo-Christian traditions. And I think you have to recognise that, because otherwise, you’re cutting off the roots.
When I was at ARC, the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, one of the participants said that Western civilization risks becoming a cut flower. And I think that’s what we don’t want. I don’t want to pretend that all of these great things — the nation states, the universities, all of these economic advances, military advances, just came floating along with the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is a product of that. Tom Holland, who also writes for UnHerd, in his book Dominion, has done a very detailed historical background, without hiding the negative stuff, on how these things are linked.
I think we’ve been asking the wrong question. Can you prove that there is a God? I’m not sure that that’s the right question. The question was asked; it was answered to the degree that people ended that debate with “let’s agree to disagree”. But even that stance in itself is very Christian, very Western. (That’s not how it ends in Islam, with “let’s agree to disagree” — more like, “you don’t believe in God? Give me your head.”) We achieved that, and I think it’s a pinnacle. The next stage now is to preserve it for the next generation, and to transmit it to the immigrants who have chosen with their feet to come here.
FS: So what does that mean practically? You’ve campaigned over the years for secular schools — to keep faith and schooling separate — does this mean that in our education system, there should be a reintroduction of Judeo-Christian ideas?
AHA: Yes, I should apologise. When I was a member of parliament in the Netherlands, I said that I think that Muslim schools should be abolished. I had been put in charge of the integration portfolio, and I thought, well, if they’re going to Muslim schools, and they’re going to be Hamas-ified, they’re not going to integrate into this society. Not only that, but they’re also going to be left behind. So you’re giving them arguments to remain deprived, and to be excluded. So I wanted Muslim schools to be closed. I still want Muslim schools to be closed. But I was very much mistaken about Christian schools. Christian schools here, and in the Netherlands, and everywhere, are churning out kids who are balanced and happy and well-established and responsible citizens. So I don’t think Christian schools should be shut; I think Islamic schools should be shut.
FS: Someone watching this will no doubt write in the comments that that’s a double standard: “How can she say we should close Islamic schools but not Christian schools?” What would you say to them?
AHA: It’s more than a double standard. It’s a higher standard. And it’s that higher standard which has brought all of those Muslims to come here and establish themselves here. Because that standard is higher, that is the standard we should maintain and upkeep. I think we should stop being shy and inhibited and coy about who we are and who we have to thank for all of these successes.
CONVERSION TO CRISTIANITY
FS: Many of your fans will have been unnerved by the announcement of your Christian conversion last week. They might feel that you have been such a champion of secular liberalism: if you’ve lost faith in it, then maybe they should lose faith in it too? What would you say to them?
AHA: I don’t think that they should. They should find their own path to seeing what I think I see. Which is: it’s not either reason and enlightenment or faith in God. I think it’s and-and. I think it’s both and that one has led to the other. The stories of Jesus Christ — of throw the first stone, love thy neighbour, look after the poor — those stories are standards for the people who believe and live by them.
These people don’t reject you. I give this example. I was in Australia with the Atheist Association. I think I was there with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. I’m not sure whether Christopher Hitchens was there. Outside the auditorium, there were large numbers of protestors with big placards that said “behead Ayaan Hirsi Ali”, “kill her”. They were making a tonne of noise about me and the others. Right around that time, about maybe 2010 or 2011, I was also saying really terrible things about Christianity, and I was getting letters from Christians saying, “we pray for you”. And so sitting there, I thought: actually I’m not quite sure that these two religions are the same or that all religions are the same. Religions are different. Christianity has evolved. But it should not go to a place where it commits suicide.
FS: So the message I suppose is that you are still a liberal as well as a Christian? Is that fair?
AHA: Yes, that’s very much fair. That liberalism is rooted in Christianity.
FS: A lot of people were also questioning what appeared to be the practical argument for your faith decisions. The argument felt more like a justification of Christianity as a mechanism to resist cultural collapse; it was not so much a personal journey, not so much about your own faith. Is there anything that you would expand on there?
AHA: Yes, it is a very personal story. I don’t know to what extent it’s useful, but on a very personal level, I went through a period of crisis — very personal crisis: of fear, anxiety, depression. I went to the best therapists money can buy. I think they gave me an explanation of some of the things that I was struggling with. But I continued to have this big spiritual hole or need. I tried to self-medicate. I tried to sedate myself. I drank enough alcohol to sterilise a hospital. Nothing helped. I continued to read books on psychiatry and the brain. And none of that helped. All of that explained a small piece of the puzzle, but there was still something that I was missing.
And then I think it was one therapist who said to me, early this year: “I think, Ayaan, you’re spiritually bankrupt.” And at that point, I was in a place where I had sort of given up hope. I was in a place of darkness, and I thought, “well, what the hell, I’m going to open myself to that and see what you are talking about”. And we started talking about faith, and belief in God, and I explained to her that the God I grew up with was a horror show. He created you to punish you and frighten you; and as a girl, and as a woman, you’re just a piece of trash. And so I explained to her why I didn’t believe in God — and, more than that, why I actually hated God. And then she asked me to design my own God, and she said, “if you had the power to make your own God, what would you do?” And as I was going on I thought: that is actually a description of Jesus Christ and Christianity at its best. And so instead of inventing yet another new God, I started diving into that story.
And so far I like this story, as I explore it. The more I look at it, the more I — I don’t want to say I’m fulfilled, but I no longer have this need, this void. I feel like I’m going somewhere. There are standards that I have to live by that are quite high, and that’s daunting. But these are standards that I’d rather aspire to, even if I fail. Maybe the only human being who nearly achieved that was the late Queen Elizabeth! Trying to emulate her is this daily practice of hardship.
FS: Well she never did interviews, which made it easier.
AHA: Yeah. But those ideas of service and duty and selflessness, checking your urges and your impulses, your anger and your resentment and your pride. I find these things far more appealing compared to “go and convert the others and if they refuse…”
FS: How should those of us who are not religious interpret your message? In a way you extrapolate your own journey to a cultural level because there is something close to an existential crisis going on culture-wide. Are there other ways to fill that hole and heal our culture that don’t involve religious conversion?
AHA: I’d ask for respect for my very subjective experience. Like I said, there’s a need that I have for spirituality, and I think that I’m getting somewhere with having that need met. But if you’re not, if you don’t have that, we can live in mutual respect and friendship. In fact, I was communicating just now with one of my atheist friends who was baffled. “What are you doing Ayaan?” he said. I don’t want our friendship to be altered. I respect him, and he respects me.
But when it comes to society as a whole, my interpretation is that people are asking for meaning. Things don’t make sense. There was an article in The Atlantic this month talking about the teenage mental health crisis. They’ve looked into this, and therapy hasn’t helped. It’s not helping. I go back to the question: “What do immigrants have in common with Gen Z?” And the answer is the same: what is it that we want to transmit? What I want to transmit to my children is summed up in Tom Holland’s book Dominion. And I think people will feel empowered when they know that there’s something that they want to give to the next generation and something that they want to fight for.
FS: That is respect and love for the culture, even if you don’t sign up to the faith?
AHA: Yes, I would never force this on anyone. There is no coercion. But there is a sense that there’s something we’ve achieved and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. These Judeo-Christian debates that have gone on for centuries have led to good things. We should own that there’s a great deal we’ve achieved, in terms of quality of life in the West, which is the envy of everyone else. This we should acknowledge, we should own, we should preserve.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
FS: Let us turn to the audience for questions.
Question One: I’m Moroccan Iranian, raised in an atheist family. In Morocco, I grew up with a lot of Jews. So I had a very different experience and upbringing to yours. My question is, you’re in favour of closing down Muslim schools so that children can be integrated. What is your view on Jewish schools? Two North London schools in 2015 wanted to ban mothers from driving their children to school because that was not appropriate. They were ultra-Orthodox schools. We see pockets of extremism in Europe, not only from Islam, but also from Judaism. What is your view on this?
AHA: My view is that Jewish schools should stay open. I consciously said “Judeo-Christian” heritage and traditions. I think that you have rogue Christian schools which do things that are probably very un-Christian, and you will have some rogue Jewish schools that do things that are very un-Jewish and extreme. But that cannot be the reason to close down institutions that, in fact, do extremely well. If you look at the children that graduate from Jewish schools, they are some of the most successful, most moral kids, who are completely aligned with the Western values that I’ve just been describing. So as far as I’m concerned, just like Christian schools, Jewish schools should stay open.
Now, where there are Muslim schools that produce student graduates that adhere to the norms and values of this country and of this civilization, I think they too should stay open. I’m thinking, for instance, of the Aga Khan schools, and the Aga Khan schools do produce graduates with values that are well-aligned. They prepare children to take part and contribute to this society — and so they too should stay open. The schools that I want closed are the schools that Hamas-ify their kids, that indoctrinate them with hatred, and with the idea that we embrace death and that we want to die as martyrs. Those are the schools that I want to be shut down.
Question Two: If you look at the Pew Research Centre estimates of how Britain is going to change over the next half century, they estimate that under a high immigration scenario, which our governments are clearly committed to continuing, the share of Britain’s population that is Muslim will increase from 6% to 17% by 2050. This means that between my daughter being two, which she is today, and 28, the increase will be threefold. What would be your advice to the British government in terms of promoting the integration of communities in Britain over the next few years, because, as far as I can tell, nobody in Westminster on the Left or the Right, is remotely interested in bringing our communities together?
AHA: That is a very good question that deserves a book in answer. You describe a crisis that is now felt not only in Britain, but also in other European countries where you have declining birth rates. We’re seeing a shift in the proportion of the population that might be made up of Muslims who come here with a completely different subset of values.
We have to address the questions of immigration and integration equally urgently. We need to reclaim the now-porous borders of the nation state, and give that power back to the people. That question should be addressed very, very quickly.
I think we need immigrants. But we have to select who we want to have here — and who we don’t want. That is tied very much to what we’ve been talking about today: “Who are we and what is it that we want to preserve and transmit?” I think we’ve got to answer both of these questions. And until we do, it’s going to be very hard to find policies that we agree on.
FS: On what basis would you select immigrants?
AHA: I’ve been here only briefly, so I don’t know very much about Britain. But there are lots and lots of work openings for which we don’t have the people. And I think that on a very practical level, these are the people that you want to have. This is a policy issue I’m actually working on. The details of that are: select the people that you need, who will adhere to the laws and the norms, and reject the ones that won’t.
FS: Would that include a preference for Judeo-Christian cultures over other cultures?
AHA: All Judeo-Christian countries are equally in need of immigration at the moment, because they’re not producing enough children. So it’s not as if you can have immigrants come here from America or even from Israel. It’s the developing world that’s producing immigrants. And unfortunately, yes, it’s Muslim-majority countries that are producing immigrants.
I think we’re facing other hurdles too — the Geneva Convention, the European Convention — these are policy issues, and it involves a great deal of detail. But I think it’s a very, very important question, a very, very urgent question.
Question Three: How do you see this role of Christianity fitting in a country where less than 50% of the population now identify as Christian? You have a very large number of non-religious and a very wide range of minority religions. How would that fit into civic matters if it’s not coerced?
AHA: If you define Christianity in its narrowest sense — people who accept Jesus Christ, who attend church, etc — you’re right about those numbers. But I think if you define it in a much broader way, on a civilizational level, you’re going to see that most people, even though they say they’re not Christian, in fact are. This is a Christian society still.
One of the audience members came to talk to me about a book I wrote called The Challenge of Dawa. Dawa is propagation, an infrastructure of trying to win hearts and minds, without any violence, towards the teachings of Muhammad. And I think that the only way to fight Dawa is counter-Dawa. You’ve got to put in the same level of effort, if not more, into winning hearts and minds over to the broader story of Christianity. It can be done if we want to, it’s a matter of will.
Question Four: In our society there’s a lack of definition of what it is we stand for, what our ideals are. But when you look at past attempts to define it, such as the Millennium Dome and the NHS parades at the Olympics, they all seem paltry and trivial. How can we convince our Gen Z’s that we’ve got something good to offer, particularly for people who don’t come from faith? What can we offer that can bring a cohesive vision of British society without faith?
AHA: I think that brings us back to what we’ve been talking about all evening, which is to get the broader question right. If I asked everyone in the room to raise your hand if you believe in life, liberty, the rule of law, and due process; if you believe that power should be checked, and that power has to be spread; if you believe in independent, impartial courts — you’re going to raise your hand to all of that. Now, try and bring it to its roots, and pass that story on.
What I’ve observed in the last few years — and I didn’t see the significance of it until the emergence of the woke movement — is that when we are told to remove names such as Easter and Christmas from schools, or to remove any kind of religious studies, this is about dismantling our society, brick by brick, and removing every meaningful edifice. That’s when you stand up to them by telling the story of how and why all this came about. You don’t have to run around with the Bible: I’m not talking about people pretending that they’re acting like Jesus, talking in tongues, saying they’re healing the sick and so on. You don’t have to make a caricature of Christianity, and the Judeo-Christian legacy. But I think it’s very important that we understand the story on which this is built, because human beings want stories. They like narratives. And right now the prevailing narratives are destructive narratives.
Question Five: I’m a big proponent of daylight as the best disinfectant. Wouldn’t it be useful to have Islam and Christianity and general Religious Studies be more part of general education so that students can actually see what the difference is? Instead of just saying, “Here’s one thing, this is what we stand for,” but also, “Here is why we don’t stand for that”? So students can make up their own mind?
AHA: I know what you mean, and it’s called multiculturalism, and it has failed. That’s exactly the core of multiculturalism: that all of these cultures are the same, they’re equal, and why don’t we just have a menu of these different things? I think that it’s unfair to young people to be told they’re all equally the same. They are not. And we can sit here and I can argue why they’re actually not and Western Christian civilisation is superior.
I think at some point, we have to be able to say that. If we don’t, then these other narratives will come and fill in the void as the woke are doing now, by saying, “Actually, Western civilisation is based on exploitation and slavery and colonisation, let’s decolonise.” If you go to American universities — and I’m sure this whole decolonisation talk nonsense is here too — what they are really teaching is that because Western civilisation is only based on having colonised, exploited, robbed and raped peoples, let’s reverse the roles. Let’s destroy everything, let’s do the same thing to the white male heterosexuals and start with a clean slate — and we need violence to do that. That’s what’s taught.
Question 5: My name is Sophie Robinson, I’m a trustee of Humanists UK. I wonder whether you feel that atheism is an empty vessel, and there’s no hope because we’ve failed with the ideas or concepts that we have? Do you think we’ve failed in terms of content, or have we failed in terms of process, because we failed to establish a church and all of the things that go along with a modern-day religion?
AHA: I think it is partly content, partly process, but also partly history. If you can take it all back to those first stories and that whole struggle and how it all came about, I think you would enhance your content with a story that makes sense. “Back in the day, we used to burn witches; we don’t do that anymore — why is that?” Take the kids back to those conversations that people were having. These were religious conversations that they were having within religious settings. So I think if you say we’re going to have humanism or atheism, and we’re going to tear the branches from the roots, that is when we get into trouble.
The other thing about atheism is it’s a negative concept. It is basically a declaration saying, “I don’t believe that there is evidence that an entity called God exists.” Other than that, it’s nothing else. There’s an assumption that, if people conclude that, we are going to have all individuals united around reason and enlightenment and knowledge and tolerance and moderation. But that’s not how it turned out to be.
Question 6: We’ve seen all protesters with slogans, “Queers for Palestine”, which involves some serious intellectual acrobatics. What would you say to these protesters?
AHA: It’s just material for comedy. You have to ask yourself: we live in the age of information, of the internet. We’ve only just had the experience of Isis; the Islamic Republic of Iran is in place; Hamas was actually governing Gaza. What were they doing to homosexuals? I don’t think that they’ve gone so far as to call them by the acronym LGBTQ or “queer”. They’re not that sophisticated. They throw them from tall buildings.
If you’re from a Muslim family, and within your family someone is suspected of being gay, it’s the obligation of the family to commit an honour killing. It doesn’t even go as far as the government or tribunals and trials. When it happens, it’s done quite publicly, and it’s done in the most gruesome fashion. So “Queers for Palestine”, I think, is another manifestation of how our society is really becoming stupid.
Question 7: Ever since 9/11, there have always been voices on the Left, who would say that this is caused by Western colonialism, or in reaction to some Western deeds, drawing from the works of men like Edward Said, for example, or Frantz Fanon. And after the attacks on October 7, immediately there were people on Twitter basically justifying what had happened in the most gruesome way. How do we respond to these individuals? Because they seem to have completely captured the Left now. There’s no one on the Left, like your late friend Christopher Hitchens or Nick Cohen, who would stand against Islamism in this way.
AHA: I want to say there are a lot of people on the Left, the centre-left, who are sane and disagree with all of this and are horrified by it. But first and foremost, they are the ones who have been silenced by it.
I started out on the Left — I was a member of the Social Democratic party before I moved to the centre-right — and there was a sense that you could achieve everything through conversation. There was an idea that is still very much alive within the Left that there is no such a thing as evil, there is no such thing as human nature, that people are made to do bad things by society — and they still hold those concepts. What I’m seeing now is an older generation of Left who feel that they’ve been sidelined, and they’ve been put in the embarrassing position where they have to defend conservatives and centre-right principles.
Then there are these young progressive wings that have been brainwashed in universities by fringe groups, and the Islamists and Russian and Chinese insurgents exploit these groups. They penetrate these groups and have them hold plaques that say, “Queers for Palestine”. But I think, from an intellectual perspective, the thing to observe right now, is this schism that’s unfolding between the older-generation Left and the new progressive wing. It’s very interesting.
Question 8: It seems to me that the logic of what you’re saying is some form of tighter regulation of Islam than of other religious denominations. Is that where this leads? And secondly, this is a country which can’t even build a railway from London to Manchester. Do we actually have the energy as a society to counter the undeniably negative energy that was on the streets on last weekend?
AHA: You are a lawyer. If you believe that rules, laws and regulations are products of culture, right now the prevailing culture — I’m not talking about the silent majority, but the activist groups — the sorts of rules and regulations that they’re pushing for lead towards destruction. The most vocal, active voices are either the progressive woke, or the far-Right groups that either react to them or have always been round. To get to a place where we’re going to make sensible rules and regulations — I’m not even talking about new ones, I’m talking about dusting off the old ones and preserving them — we have to address this question of who are we? And I think lawyers will have a great deal to do. They can help with a lot of that.
Question 9: Do you believe that we were created by the Abrahamic God? And if you do, have you always believed that’s the case, and simply changed the flavour of that belief over time? If you don’t, is this more a sense of political pragmatism?
AHA: My atheist friends want to see evidence. You say, “Do you believe that God created…?” And then you say, “Well, have you got any evidence for God?” I want to sidestep that question by saying: I believe they are stories, and I choose to believe the story that there is a higher power. What that means I’m still developing, I’m still learning as much as I can. But I choose to believe in that story because the legacy of that story is what we’re living through. So yes, it’s partly pragmatic. And yes, it is partly personal and spiritual. And it’s a story I like because it’s a story that says: human life is worth living because it’s in the image of God. And instead of seeking a God somewhere out there who’s ordering you to do all sorts of things, God is something in you. That’s much, much more appealing to me than the story of: there is nothing there, you have no more value than mould. And that’s atheism. And I think if you tell people they have no more value than mould, then what’s the point?
FS: I had no idea how open Ayaan was prepared to be this evening. I think it’s extraordinary that she has spoken so candidly with us, and as always, so eloquently and powerfully. Thank you for coming to UnHerd.
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