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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speech

Having used my previous post to criticise Ayaan Hirsi Ali over a recent interview that she gave to Reason magazine, I'll make up for it just a little. Here is the link to this much more likeable speech that she gave not long ago at a conference in the United States (you can easily find the second half - the question-and-answer session - from there, if interested).

In this conference session, she's much more faltering and nervous than when I've seen her in appearances on television. Perhaps she was intimidated by speaking in front of such intellectual heavies as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. If you go to the end of part two, she seems humbled and overwhelmed after Dawkins speaks from the floor, offering to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Be that as it may, her story is moving, and she's certainly a charismatic figure. For now, I'm still a fan, but I'm getting worried that she's drifting into an extremism of her own. I'm not so much bothered that Hirsi Ali associates with relatively right-wing organisations, such as the American Enterprise Institute - that's her business, and ironically enough no left-leaning think tank is likely to fund the work of a public intellectual with such an uncompromisingly anti-religious message. I'm concerned, rather, that she seems unable to envision a way to engage with the world of Islam without violent conflict.

In the speech, and elsewhere, she has good, solid stuff to say about the Enlightenment ideas and values that she studied in the Netherlands, on the long intellectual and emotional journey that has made her one of the most prominent of all critics of Islam. Now, if she could just find a policy response to the tension between Islam and the West ... beyond the simplistic idea that the former must be "crushed" before it can be transformed.

That's too negative, too hopeless, much too hard to stomach. We need to find something better.

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