Author and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali reminds us why the recent attack against Salman Rushdie was an attack on all of us.
“The infidels will not be silenced,” wrote columnist, speaker, human rights activist and best-selling author Ayaan Hirsi Ali on August 17, 2022, striking a defiant and heartfelt tone. “Like Salman Rushdie, I choose freedom.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a better perspective than most on the recent stabbing attack of writer Salman Rushdie in New York.
The author of such works as “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now,” and, “Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights,” Ali is herself frequently the target of violent threats from the same extremists who have been ruthlessly hunting Rushdie since 1989.
“I know all too well the threat Islamism poses,” Ms. Hirsi Ali shared. “After I came out as an apostate, I was forced into a bubble of protection that still surrounds me to this day. I have 24-hour security. I still receive death threats.”
“My friend, the sweet, vulgar, brilliant Theo Van Gogh was murdered simply for making a film with me,” she wrote, before describing her own terror and heartbreak in these unforgettable words:
“His attacker used a knife to stab a letter into Theo’s chest: it said that I would be next.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali also understands better than most how seductive extremist ideologies can be, having spent many of her formative years enduring that particular hotbed of dogmatic violence.
“Thirty-three years ago, when I was a teenager in Nairobi, I was a book burner,” Ali admitted boldly. “The year was 1989, the year of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and I was seduced by the rising tide of Islamism. I greeted the fatwa with glee.”
“I rarely burnt actual books,” the author shared. “We were too poor to afford a copy of The Satanic Verses. Instead, we wrote the title of the offending novel and the name of its author on cardboard and paper and set them alight. It was comical and pathetic. But we were deadly serious. We thought Ayatollah Khomeini was standing up for Islam against the infidels, bringing down the righteous fury of Allah upon a vile apostate.”
“Had Rushdie been attacked then, I would have celebrated,” Ali wrote poignantly.
It is this style of writing- searingly honest, ruthlessly incisive, unflinching- which has made Ayaan Hirsi Ali one of the most popular, outspoken and unforgettable voices in media today. It has also made her a number of bitter, deadly enemies.
For simply sharing her experience, her personal life story, Ayaan Hirsi Ali faces the threat of death every single day. Reading her account, it is clear why extremists and terrorists consider her such a danger.
“In the decades since, I have been a refugee, an atheist and a convert to the highest ideals and values of the West: free speech, freedom of conscience, the emancipation of women, and a free press,” she writes. “When I fled from a forced marriage and made a life in Europe, I was bewitched by the culture of freedom.”
“But I still remember with a shudder my time as a pious believer on the verge of fanaticism,” she recounts. “I know all too well how righteousness in the name of Islam motivates those who inflict violence on supposed infidels.”
“When I heard the news about Salman last week, I couldn’t speak,” she confessed. “I was horrified, but I was also scared. If they could get him on American soil, would I be next?”
“Will I ever be free?” the author wondered openly. “Will I ever feel safe? Will my children ever feel safe?”
“But this isn’t my story,” Ali couched. “It is the story of Salman Rushdie and everyone he stands for, of all the people in the Muslim world and the West who dare to challenge sacred dogmas and find themselves threatened and even murdered for doing so.”
She shared a quote from Salman Rushdie himself, something Rushdie said after the 9/11 terror attacks: “How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorised. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”
“And yet last Friday, I was scared,” Ali admitted of the the attack on Rushdie. “I felt terrorised. I was urged to go into hiding and stay silent for my own safety. For a few hours, I let fear rule my life.”
“But still I knew deep down that freedom is a choice- and that I would keep choosing to be free, to speak and write as I please,” she wrote. “In this way, in writing this very piece, I defy the Islamists and all others who would silence me.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is correct to remind all of us of an inescapable truth: Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others pursued by the forces of violence and chaos have plenty of company the world over. They are joined by comedians, journalists, writers, activists who have been targeted, beaten, stabbed, shot and tortured for thought crimes, for words on a page, for jokes.
Any of us could, at any moment, fall under the same death sentence the forces of evil would impose on freedom fighters like Ali and Rushdie.
Express the same sentiments as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, write a book like Salman Rushdie- speak out in solidarity with either or all of the above, as British author J.K. Rowling recently dared do- and we too could find ourselves facing nameless, never-ending death threats, a fatwa which would last forever.
“Just look at the wording of the fatwa itself,” Ali asks us: “I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. Whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr.”
“This is the language of honour and sensitivity,” Ali reminds us. “Salman has blasphemed- he has insulted the honour of our precious beliefs- and so he, and many others, must die.”
“The Western response to the fatwa, as to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, was to negotiate,” summarized Ali. “Then, as now, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the regime. The world of the West and the world of Islamism are totally irreconcilable. The sooner we realize that nothing will appease the fanatics of Tehran, the better able we will be to oppose them.”
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)