Recorded on July 12, 2017
Ayaan Hirsi Ali joins Peter Robinson to discuss her new book, The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Contain It, and her views on the challenges facing Western civilization in regards to political Islam. She argues that Islam needs to be separated into two different parts, one part of religion and the other part, political philosophy. She concedes that many aspects of the religious part of Islam are peaceful but argues that the political side is much more concerning due to its focus on Dawa, which means “to plead or to call non-Muslims to Islam.” This call to convert people to Islam is what she argues was a driving force behind the spread of Islam throughout history.
Hirsi Ali argues that American political philosophy and classical liberalism are young philosophies in comparison to the fourteen centuries of Islamic political doctrine and that its age and layered-ness are often underestimated by Western minds who are more familiar with younger political philosophies. She discusses the critiques of the philosopher Karl Popper of communism and fascism and how they relate directly to the ideologies of Islam. She argues that the language of appeasement often used toward radical Islamic terrorism is too gentle and that discussions of how to deal with Islam need to be considerably franker.
Earlier this year Ayaan Hirsi Ali was called before Congress to testify on her book The Challenge of Dawa. She discusses her testimony and that although she was invited by a Democrat senator to speak “about the ideology of radical Islam,” the Democrats present didn’t ask her a single question because they were likely uncomfortable with what she had to say about Islam. She argues that just as Western civilizations have defeated dangerous ideologies in the past, she is optimistic that Western civilization will succeed against political Islam for, as she says, “[Jihadis] can’t destroy us without permission.” She says if we take the fight to the “battlefield of ideas” we can defeat radical Islamic ideologies with Western beliefs.
About the Guest
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1969. As a young child she was subjected to female genital mutilation; as she grew up she embraced Islam and strove to live as a devout Muslim. But she began to question aspects of her faith. One day, while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she couldn't resist asking, "Must our husbands obey us too?"
In 1992 Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage. There she was given asylum and in time citizenship. She quickly learned Dutch and was able to study at the University of Leiden, earning her MA in political science. Working as a translator for Somali immigrants, she saw firsthand the inconsistencies between liberal Western society and tribal Muslim cultures.
From 2003 to 2006 Hirsi Ali served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament. While in parliament, she focused on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society and on defending the rights of Muslim women.
In 2004 Hirsi Ali gained international attention following the murder of Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, a film about the oppression of women under Islam. The assassin, a radical Muslim, left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh's chest.
In 2006 Hirsi Ali had to resign from parliament when the then Dutch minister for immigration decided to revoke her citizenship, arguing that Ayaan had mislead the authorities at the time of her asylum application. The Dutch courts, however, confirmed that Hirsi Ali was indeed a legitimate Dutch citizen, leading to the fall of the government. Disillusioned with the Netherlands, she subsequently moved to the United States.
In 2007 Hirsi Ali founded the AHA Foundation to protect and defend the rights of women in the United States from harmful traditional practices. Today the foundation is the leading organization working to end violence that shames, hurts, or kills thousands of women and girls in the United States each year and puts millions more at risk.
Hirsi Ali is a fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Hirsi Ali is currently researching the relationship between the West and Islam. She must live with round-the-clock security, as her willingness to speak out and her abandonment of the Muslim faith have made her a target for violence by Islamic extremists.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" of 2005, one of the Glamour Heroes of 2005, and Reader's Digest's European of the Year for 2005. She is the best-selling author of Infidel (2007) and Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (2015).
The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter It
How to Counter Political Islam
March for Every Woman
Kamala Harris, Speak Up. Don’t Be Silent on Women’s Rights
Testimony on Ideology and Terror
Peter Robinson: The most compelling warnings to the West about radical Islam, those would come from someone who grew up in the world of Islam. Today on Uncommon Knowledge, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Uncommon Knowledge now. Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia in 1969. In 1992, she fled an arranged marriage, escaping to the Netherlands. From 2003 to 2006, she served in the Dutch parliament, warning about the incompatibility of radical Islam with the Western way of life. In 2004, she received international attention when the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, her friend and collaborator, was murdered. Van Gogh had directed Submission, a short film that Ms. Ali wrote about the oppression of women under Islam. The murderer, a radical Muslim, used a knife to pin a death threat for Ms. Ali to Mr. Van Gogh's body. In 2006, the Dutch Minister for Immigration attempted to revoke Ms. Ali's citizenship. The courts ultimately upheld Ms. Ali's citizenship, but she resigned from the Dutch parliament and moved here to the United States. Ms. Ali is the author of a number of books, including the 2007 volume Infidel, the 2015 work Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation, and published this year, The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter It. Ms. Ali is a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, welcome.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Thank you, Peter. Thank you for having me.
Peter Robinson: My pleasure. The nature of the problem. Ayaan Hirsi Ali testifying before Congress this past spring, quote, "Two successive administrations," you're talking about those of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, "Two successive administrations have approached the problem of political Islam with a completely flawed strategy: the illusion that a line could somehow be drawn between Islam, a [supposed] religion of peace, adhered to by a moderate majority, and violent extremism, engaged in by a tiny minority." Were you telling Congress that Islam isn't a religion of peace?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I was telling Congress that Islam is part religion and part a political philosophy, and that if you focus only on the religious parts, praying, fasting, how-
Peter Robinson: There you see nothing but peace.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I don't see anything but peace. If people wanted to pray and fast and be together peacefully, have their rituals, I think that's protected, and I don't think that that necessarily leads to any kind of violence. You may object to it if you're not religious, but it is religion as we understand it, as the Founding Fathers, as the framers of the institution might have understood it. But then there is Islam, which is really the major part of Islam, which is a political philosophy. It's a prescription for how society ought to be built, how society ought to be furnished, governed, and that philosophy is, A, not compatible with our American Constitution or liberal democracy, or any other secular type of government, and that's what we need to be discussing. It's a set of ideas, a set of principles, values, and there are people who are committed to not only practicing it, but also to promoting it, and some of them are so committed to it that it's not enough for them to establish it within their own societies. They want it to rule the whole world.
Peter Robinson: Crude question, but it's going to be on everybody's mind, and that question is, how big is the problem? 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. That's a little over a fifth of the population of the entire planet.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: That's right.
Peter Robinson: Are you saying to us, "We have a problem with 1.6 billion," or are you saying we're simply drawing the line in the wrong place, that somehow or other, if you look at some, you're looking only for some tiny sliver of the population that is radical, terrorist and so forth, you're missing something, we're drawing the line in the wrong place? Or are you saying the religion and the prescription for how to organize human society are so tightly intertwined that the problem is indeed with Islam itself?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I think the distinction I want us to make, first and foremost, is the distinction between the doctrine, Islamic doctrine, Islamic political doctrine, and human beings, the adherents. Let's say we agree on just what the basic facts are. The Prophet Muhammad founded a religion that then he later, 10 years into the religion, he developed into a political doctrine, and that evolved over time. There were conquests. Islam was an empire, and it's the doctrine that governed that empire on the one hand. On the other hand, there are the human beings. They are the 1.5 or 1.6 billion people out there, and one Muslim varies from another. There is a great deal of diversity. There is diversity of geography, diversity of language, of gender, of income, of age. There is a great deal of diversity among Muslims. The most important one, to us, is, there are some Muslims who, when they look at Islam, they just choose what is religious about it. Again, the praying, the fasting, the community, or the communal rituals.
Peter Robinson: And you're saying-
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: And there are Muslims who say, "No, that's not enough. It's not enough to be Muslim in the religious sense only. You have to accept and abide and practice and promote Islam also in its political sense," and it's that group. I don't know how big they are, but in terms of drawing lines, I think that's where we need to start.
Peter Robinson: I see. All right, so let me ... You write in The Challenge of Dawa, your testimony before Congress, your book Heretic calling for a reformation of Islam—you're, of course, aware of the whole history of Islam, but you're mostly, you're talking about the present moment and what the West, the United States in particular, needs to do. However, let me ask you to address the history for a moment, and the argument of which you're well aware runs simply as follows. It takes a moment to set this up, but it's an important question. Islam emerges in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century, and within a century, it has swept across North Africa, which had been substantially Christian. In other words, there is a conquest that takes place, and by the middle of the 8th century, there is, far north as central France, we have the Battle of Tours, and for seven centuries, Islam holds most of what we call Spain today. Then in the 16th century, they conquer Constantinople, and a couple of decades later, the world of Islam is prevented from dominating the Mediterranean only because the wind happens to favor the Venetian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto, and then we have, as recently as 1683, Muslim armies lay siege to Vienna. That's the one that is so striking to me. 1683 is 20 years after, little more than 20 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and Islam is still attempting to invade Central Europe. Okay, so the argument would run-
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: And don't forget India. Don't forget parts of Asia. Don't forget Africa.
Peter Robinson: So, all right, and you not only grant the argument, you're heightening it, so to speak.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yes, yes.
Peter Robinson: And the argument would run, "Thank you very much for attempting to reassure us, but truly we need to be wide awake. This really is a clash of civilizations, and there is something within Islam which has demonstrated, for all 14 centuries, an animus, an aggressiveness, toward the West. The problem is Islam itself." How do you deal with that argument?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I think, again, you have to go to the political blueprints. If you take the American Founding Fathers, it's about 200 and something years old. It's a relatively-
Peter Robinson: It's been around for a while.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: ... young philosophy.
Peter Robinson: Oh, I see. Yeah.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: By comparison to Islam, it's young, yes. Yes.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah. Even if you take classical liberalism, these are relatively young ideas, and then even younger, you get to communism and all the rest of it. So if you think of Islam as a political philosophy, it's really one of the oldest ideas, one of the oldest governing principles. It's not Western. It is not as organized ... It doesn't make logical sense to the Western mind, the Western mind of today. I think back then, if you read some of the works of Gibbons and beyond that, they seemed to have understood what they were dealing with back then, but today, it seems to me that there are very few people in the West who really think that they understand the layered-ness of Islam. That's why we need qualifiers like "radical" and "extreme" and "fundamentalist." These are all words, this is a vocabulary that we use for Christianity and for Western phenomena that we then try to put on a different civilization, so I think first, we have to acknowledge, yes, this is an old political philosophy. It's been around for a long time, and we don't understand it. Part of it is also, we don't want to understand it. Why don't we want to understand it? I don't know the answer to that question, but again, let me speculate. If you get deep into the values and the principles that are promoted from within the political Islamic doctrine, and you put them next to Western political ideas, you get to a place of zero-sum games.
Peter Robinson: Either it's that, or it's that.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: It's, yeah.
Peter Robinson: They're incompatible.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: It becomes binary.
Peter Robinson: No society can be both.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah. No society can be both, and the contemporary Western mind is taught to collaborate, to cooperate, to compromise.
Peter Robinson: Pluralism.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Pluralism, tolerance, all, to me, fantastic ideas and a fantastic attitude toward the world, but sometimes you get to a place where it is impossible to compromise, and I think deep down, the contemporary Western mind just ... It's not that we don't get it. It's that when you get it, then what?
Peter Robinson: Right. Right. We don't want ... All right. You made about three points that I want to follow up on. But first, you quote here in The Challenge of Dawa, and then you mention it again in your testimony before Congress, you quote Karl Popper. Karl Popper is middle 20th-century philosopher, the man, a great defender of what he termed the open society. There's Popper, Hayek, a number of others, and Popper's this tremendously important intellectual figure for defending the West as it had evolved by the middle of the last century. Karl Popper says, believes in tolerance up to a point. Let me quote him. This is a passage that you footnoted, so I looked up the passage. He's writing in 1945, and clearly, he has in mind fascism and communism, but here's what Popper writes. "As long as we," Westerners, "As long as we can counter intolerant philosophies by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them, if necessary even by force. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal." Close quote. So here you have this paradox, that in order to sustain a tolerant society, you need to draw very sharp lines around it and say, "This, inside, as much tolerance as we can manage, but there are lines, and outside, we claim the right to suppress the intolerant." Now, that is extremely strong language, and there were people even at the time who thought that was going a little far toward communism, for example. Do you want to amend this language in any way, as a statement of principle for the way we ought to deal with Islam, because the tightness of religious belief and political theory, it's so closely intertwined with the fundamental outlook on man's relation to God? Do you want to amend, do you want to soften it, or do you want to let Popper stand as a kind of guiding principle for us?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I would like to let Popper stand, and again, I'm glad you mentioned 1947, 1945, 1947. We are just coming out of the Second World War in the West. We've just been confronted with an ideology that was impossible to compromise with, and if you'll remember, the early days, the conversations between Chamberlain and Churchill, Chamberlain thought that he could talk some sense into Hitler. He thought he could negotiate. He thought-
Peter Robinson: "Peace in our time."
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Peace in our times.
Peter Robinson: Looking back with the ... Right.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Appeasement would work. So that was the softening of the language. That was the softening of the attitude toward ... You see this evil. You really think, "It just can't be true. This man must want something other than just go down a path that could possibly destroy all of us."
Peter Robinson: And this is part of the pattern that I take it, as you identify. Even as, in those days, confronting Hitler, Chamberlain, the people who ... The appeasement crowd, they thought, "Oh, yes, yes, he talks that way, but he doesn't really believe it." Likewise during the Cold War. Much of the Left said, "Oh, no, no. The communist stuff, that's just rhetoric. Actually, they're just a great power. They want their own sphere of influence. They want a little economic growth. They don't really believe it," and you argue that we're making much the same mistake, that the radical Islamists, those who propose the political Islam, they really believe it.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: They really believe it, and here they demonstrate it. They teach their children. They sacrifice the lives of their children. What is more valuable to one than their own children? So they sacrifice the lives and the futures of their own children. They sacrifice their own careers. There are men, I mean, the big famous example is Bin Laden, but he's not the only one, who were born into privilege. Financial privilege, in that context clan and tribal privilege, I mean, their families are well respected and honored. They're princes, and they set all that aside. They go to some hellhole in Afghanistan, and they start promoting these ideas with absolutely everything that they have, everything in them. I can't think of a better illustration, a better demonstration of conviction than that kind of conviction, and it trickles down. It trickles down to the man who takes a van, after he's thought all things through, to run people over, knowing he's going to kill these people, but that he runs the risk of being shot by the police. That is a clear demonstration of conviction. If you want, I mean, take some of the ... I don't know if you follow some of what goes on in the Palestinian Territory, but some of these people who kill and die while killing others, those who die as, they're considered to be martyrs. You have streets and squares named after them. They are seen within the community of radical Muslims as heroes. They're celebrated. They're celebrated more than we celebrate the Founding Fathers, more than we celebrate any of our Western heroes, and what other demonstration do you want of conviction than that? We can go on and say they are mad, and they are deprived, they are this, they are that. Deprivation plays a role, but it is not the cause. Sometimes, I would say, I think to me, and to you, probably, it is madness to take your life. It's madness to take other people's lives, but it's-
Peter Robinson: There's something weirdly appealing about it. Conviction, the force of conviction. Well, this is my speculation. You know the answer to this. My speculation, they're ... Why do we see radicalization of Muslims in the suburbs of Paris? Here's the question. Why is it that young men, overwhelmingly men, in the last year or two years, left countries in the West, including a few from this country, but many from France, many from Germany, some from Britain, to go fight with ISIS, who were clearly leading ... These are not people who are showering. They were at risk. They were dangerous. They were ... But there's something about the purity of conviction that just does exercise an appeal. We are built to respond to belief.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: To a belief, yeah.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: To something higher than yourself, and Karl Popper describes, in The Open Society and Its Enemies, he describes that, in his criticism of Popper, and his criticism of Hegel, he describes how this transcendence of the human being subjected to being an instrument in this higher goal. Islam does that, but even better, because it's to God. It's a religious ... You see, Plato's argument, Hegel's arguments were all secular. They were man-made. Those who were convinced to go on that path had to, they had to be persuaded, but here it's the ultimate power. It's God.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: The Challenge of Dawa.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah, and I criticize Popper for jumping, for skipping Muhammad. He goes from Plato to Hegel, and in between he forgets Muhammad. I think to a certain degree, my criticism is, it's so ... A lot of people say some of these thinkers, everything about them is centered in the West, so this is, here's a critique of having ignored what's going on in other civilizations, in this case in the Islamic civilization.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: The Challenge of Dawa. Jihad is a word that we Americans have gotten to know since 9/11, holy war. We're familiar with the term, but you're arguing there's another term with which we really must become familiar. This is mandatory, not optional, and you've written this book about it, The Challenge of Dawa, which I'm sure I'm mispronouncing. Would you just, first of all, pronounce it correctly, and then tell us what it means?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Dawa is the way it's pronounced, and what it means is to plead or to call non-Muslims to Islam. This is in emulation of the founder of Islam, Muhammad, who is considered to be a prophet. In the first 10 years in Mecca, that's what he did. He called unbelievers, people who didn't believe him, who believed in several gods, to abandon their gods, abandon their religions, and come to his, and then in the 10 years in Medina that followed, the call, the invitation, the persuasion, the use of language, slowly transformed, maybe not so slowly, transformed into the use of force. So dawa, all the steps that precede jihad, in fact, you should and could see jihad as an extension of dawa, so when a non-Muslim is invited to come to Islam and refuses, then force is justified. But what's the dawa component there is, it puts the Muslim believer who's engaged in it to try several different tools. One of the first requirements of dawa is to learn as much as you can about the individuals and the community that you are trying to convert, their strengths and their weaknesses, their beliefs, whatever it is that animates them, and then tailor the message to that. So it's not just persuading people to come to dawa, but you have to ... To come to Islam, but it's more than that. It is the strategy of marketing. It is the financials. It is the Islamization, or rather, the taking of those institutions. All of that is dawa. But dawa is more than that. It's also directed at the Muslim who is not so observant, people who identify as Muslims but who completely neglect the political aspects of Islam. It's also directed at them, and that's really where it begins. Because once you establish that vanguard, then you can use them as da'is. A da'i is one ... Da'i is the individual, dawa is the concept.
Peter Robinson: And you explained to Congress, and again in this book, they were making a terrible mistake by looking at acts of violence in the Middle East and overlooking dawa as it is taking place here in the United States itself. Let me quote your testimony, "'Dawa' is to the Islamists of today what the 'long march through the institutions' was to twentieth century Marxists." Explain that.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The establishment of mosques, of Islamic centers, that are paid for by governments like Saudi Arabia and Qatar to promote a belief system that is hostile and that is designed to replace the existing ... Our American system. That is that march. It is gradual. It is a march through the systems, through government, through the media, through education, through the family, and I'm not making these things up.
Peter Robinson: No, no.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: What I've done is, I've taken ... And I really want to share this with your viewers, because we live in the information age. You can access all this information. You can get these dawa manuals and just read for yourself how they set out their strategies, get into campuses, establish Muslim student associations. The Muslim student associations are then to ... They're given tools and tactics to Islamize that particular institution, and it's the same for government, the same for media, and it's working. It's working because right now, you cannot discuss political Islam. It's been made a taboo. A term, "Islamophobia," has been invented that makes you, especially, I'm talking about a white man ... It uses your own vulnerabilities against you, because the minute you start to question their goals, their objectives, you're not having a conversation about those particular facts. We're going to have a conversation about your bigotry. Because we live in a society now that values, I don't know what to say, claims that there can be no bigotry.
Peter Robinson: Well, I mean, there's the Constitutional claim of freedom of religion.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: So, let me quote you, your testimony before Congress yet again. "The biggest challenge the United States faces in combating political Islam is," and you then do not say, "Is ISIS," or, "Terrorists." No. "The biggest challenge is the extent to which agents of dawa can exploit the constitutional and legal protections that guarantee American citizens freedom of religion and freedom of speech, freedoms that would of course be swept away if the Islamists achieved their goals."
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: That's right.
Peter Robinson: Well, that sounds like a nearly fatal vulnerability. Frankly, it sounds fatal. I'm hoping you'll tell me it's only nearly fatal.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: It's nearly fatal if we go back to the Popper principle, where our society then says, "Enough is enough," and, "Up to here, not further. We're going to enforce the rule of law. We're not going to ... " I don't know, I think one of America's great judges said, "Well, the Constitution is not a suicidal pact."
Peter Robinson: Not a suicide pact, exactly.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: It's not a suicide pact, and so the Constitution is not ... These freedoms are not suicidal pacts, suicide pacts, and I think that's where we are at now, that maybe there are people inside America who feel that there's nothing to do about it. "We have these freedoms, and we're just going to be lethargic. And if what I'm seeing is true, then let it just unfold. Let it all take place." Of course, I disagree with that, with as much force as is in me, and I'm hoping to get Americans to agree, that we can agree on trying to fight this particular ideology the way we fought previous ideologies with the same outcomes.
Peter Robinson: In The Challenge of Dawa, and also in your testimony to Congress, you present about a dozen and a half specific policy proposals, starting points. I mean, not as if you've drafted legislation, but these are kinds of things we should be thinking about. Let me take a couple of these. I'm quoting, again, from this book. "As a condition of U.S. friendship, the administration should require foreign governments to stop supporting and financing subversive Islamist activities in the United Stated." Close quote. First of all, how big is that problem?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I think it's very big.
Peter Robinson: Tens of millions a year. That big?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Of what we can see, of what we know. Some of these finances, the Treasury will know better than I do, but some of what we see is ... I mean, in a trillion-dollar economy, you might think it's just a drop in the ocean, but I think it's a lot of money.
Peter Robinson: Right. Donald Trump visited the Middle East. As we tape this program, this is less than a month ago, less than six weeks ago, and in Saudi Arabia itself, where he had not only the Saudi royal family, but leaders from 50 Muslim countries joined Trump and the Saudi royal family for this event, and he told them to face down terrorists. He said, in effect, "Knock it off. You've got to ... This new moment here, we have to join together to defeat radical Islam." Was he a sucker? Do you think there's a chance this might, that Saudi Arabia, which has been funding Wahhabism, the other countries in the Gulf that have been funding the expansion of this radical view of Islam, will they knock it off? Is there a new moment here? Or was he just being a chump like other American presidents?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I think what ... I can't speak for him, obviously, but let me make an attempt at analysis. My first point of analysis would be, he got a lot of heat for saying, "We're not going to let Muslims into the United States until we've figured out who's who and what the problem is." I think this is Donald Trump moderating his stance, and saying, "Well, we've got to start somewhere," and then made these statements and started with this speech, where he accommodates a lot of their language. Because if I were him, I would actually use the word "dawa" instead of the word "terrorism."
Peter Robinson: I see.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah. Terrorism is political violence. It gets to violence. Now, what we are really talking-
Peter Robinson: So already making the mistakes that you pointed out. You don't focus on the violence, focus on the underlying ideas and the activities of propagation.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: But if he stood there, talking to the King of Saudi Arabia, and this is the crucible of dawa, that would be a completely different conversation, and I don't think, from a diplomatic perspective, that that's the kind of conversation you want to have in public. I think behind closed doors, it would make a great deal of sense to use the Trumpian language of explicitness and say, "This is what we're ... It's the dawa. It's the ideas, and the ideology, and the principles of sharia, of jihad, of commanding rights and forbidding wrong." He'll have to get fluent in that himself, first, but that's the kind of conversation we need to have.
Peter Robinson: But hang on. Here you have, we have this wonderfully well-read, sophisticated, beautifully well-spoken, what you are is a public intellectual, and you sound to me as though you think Donald Trump is at least making a few good first steps.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Oh, I think he's making-
Peter Robinson: You may be the only public intellectual in America who's willing to stand up for Donald Trump.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Well, I'm ... There are more, but-
Peter Robinson: All right.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: ... it is, I'm not standing up for ... Donald Trump is the-
Peter Robinson: I'm trying to make you feel a little uncomfortable and see what you do with it.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah, so I'm standing up for the principles of the United States of America. He is our elected president, and I want him to succeed, and especially when it comes to this issue. I want him to succeed just the way I want, and would have wanted Hillary Clinton to succeed, if she became president, or Mickey Mouse, as far as I'm concerned. To me, it is about our leader, the man who has taken, or the woman who has taken oath to protect our country, and our Constitution, to stand up to a force that is hostile, and to make it as explicit as possible what it is that we are fighting. Now, in his Youngstown speech, in Ohio, he did that.
Peter Robinson: Which was during the campaign.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: During the campaign. Yeah, he did put, he called it radical Islamic extremism, and he put it in on par, he called it an ideology, put it on par with fascism, and communism, and National Socialism. That's where it belongs. Now, should he have said that in his speech in Saudi Arabia? I think it would be here, in the United States, that people would go up in ... They're already really anti-Trump. It would be even more anti-Trump, which is a pity. But whether we say it in public or not, whether it's President Trump or some other president, that's the conversation we need to be having.
Peter Robinson: Well, so, you had, just a moment, then, on American politics. You got Donald Trump imperfectly, maybe even stumblingly and bumblingly, but he's making, he's taking steps in the right direction, correct? That's-
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: That would be your assessment.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: All right. But he has only, he has the support ... The polls seem to have peaked at 40% or so, so that's 60% who are against him, and some virulently so, as you just noted, and ... Well, tell me what happened when you were questioned by Democrats during this testimony before Congress that I've quoted a few times. There were, I think, three or four women senators, all Democrats, who were in that hearing. Just describe the scene.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: They did ask ... I was invited by them, so a Republican senator, Ron Johnson and Claire McCaskill, who is the ranking member. I have a letter.
Peter Robinson: She's a Democrat.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: She's a Democrat. It said, "Please come and speak to us about the ideology of radical Islam." I went there, and I didn't get any questions from the Democrats, and neither did the woman who was court testifying with me, Asra Nomani, who is, in fact, a practicing Muslim, and-
Peter Robinson: Because they would not have wanted your answers. They would not have wanted to hear your answers, you speculate.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I speculate, yeah. My speculation is, they would not, wanted to hear my answers, because it puts them in an uncomfortable place.
Peter Robinson: Is there any Democrat ... What I'm poking around here for is, Donald Trump is taking the right first steps. He's an extremely unpopular president. Who on the, who among the Democrats, is there anyone on the Left ... Who's getting it right? Where do you see, just asking a political question, how do you begin to move this huge nation of ours in the right direction without a few figures among the Democrats or on the Left?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I know several Democrats who are in politics, in think tanks, just in business, normal people in Silicon Valley, lots of Democrats who get the problem and who really understand what we are dealing with. But it is not the official DNC, Democratic National Congress, talking points, and it is not the Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer talking points. It's unfortunate that we now have a democracy where opposition, healthy opposition, has become obstruction, and resistance, and that kind of language is used. It's not ... I have to say, it's not only with this issue. If you look at all the other issues, there's this waiting for Donald Trump to be impeached or to go away somehow, and then we will start having sensible conversations. But that is not how the world works. You can't just postpone these enormous problems until you get someone you want.
Peter Robinson: Last couple of questions. Once again, your testimony before Congress, "We need to develop a strategy to counter not only the jihadists, but the complex ideological infrastructure known as dawa, just as we countered both the Red Army and the ideology of communism in the Cold War." Close quote. Soviet communism lasted seven decades. Islam has been with us for fourteen centuries. Are you optimistic?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I am optimistic, because we have defeated, in the past, these ideologies, you mentioned communism, and National Socialism, that were, in some ways, more determined, modern, fighting with modern tools. Islam has been around for a very long time, but the jihadis, the political Islam of our day, buys weapons from us, takes innovation from us, needs us to destroy us. And so, in some ways, I think we should be more optimistic because, A, we've done it before.
Peter Robinson: They can't destroy us without our permission.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: They can't destroy us without our permission. They can't destroy us without us letting them destroy us. Even if you just put the two ideas side by side, one thing ... I was talking to Andy McCarthy, the former prosecutor. He was from, as a prosecutor, he's really tried to fight this fight within the justice system, and he's come to the conclusion ... The biggest part of this battle should be won in the cultural arena, in the battlefield of ideas. If you take it there, I think that we can easily win, if only we would stand up for our own ideas. If you're promoting sharia and you make it explicit, you're selling sharia to someone like me. I left Islam, so for those who leave Islam is the death penalty. I'm a woman. You want to sell sharia to me, it puts me in a position of chattel. You're trying to sell sharia to a Jewish person, or a Christian, they've been relegated to the status of dhimmis, or second-class, third-class rate. Then you show people the places on this planet today, in 2017, where sharia is reality, and you see a lot of pain and suffering, discrimination, divisiveness, poverty. So it's not a difficult idea, a difficult philosophy to defeat. It's just that we're not interested, for some reason. We're not yet, we don't get it yet. But once we get there, all of our ideas ... I mean, and I know most people here today feel a sense of shame when they talk about Western civilization, but the ideas and principles of Western civilization, with all their weaknesses and with all their pathologies, are far superior to anything that sharia has to offer. We shouldn't be embarrassed about saying that. That should be where we begin the conversation.
Peter Robinson: Last question. This time, I'm going to quote President Trump. This is Donald Trump speaking this month in Warsaw. Quote, "The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?" Close quote. Does the West have the will to survive? Is that the fundamental question?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: That's the fundamental question, yeah. That is the fundamental question. He said these words in Poland, and they were well-received, and what I've noticed, I'm ... I came to the West in 1992, so I'm a newcomer, but-
Peter Robinson: You're doing fine.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Thank you. In this short period, what I notice is, those to whom freedom came late, they're the ones who are willing to fight. The Eastern-
Peter Robinson: The Poles having suffered for four decades under the time ... Yes.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Poles, the Hungarians, the Eastern Europeans, for them it is not some vague story in history. They still know what it was like to be under the Soviet Union, to be behind that Iron Curtain, to have no freedom. They know what a totalitarian ideology is. They recognize it, and they're willing to fight for the core principles of freedom, and that's what Western civilization has granted, to a certain degree, to human beings, and has promoted and has established systems that protect that individual freedom. They know that. The Northern Europeans, to some degree Americans, who have been free for so long that they don't know what freedom is anymore, they are the ones who are in this, I think, moral twist about, wringing their hands and thinking, "How can we defend Western civilization? I mean, what is Western civilization? Is it white supremacism or is it something else?" And if our leaders, if our elites cannot tell the difference between white nationalism and Western civilization, or what it is that makes America great again, then I think we're in big trouble. We'll have to depend on those Eastern Europeans to defend us.
Peter Robinson: So that's ... This really is the last question. I kept saying last .... This one really is the last question. If the question is whether the West has the courage to defend itself, has the will to defend itself, then you've just identified the central sub-question within that question, and that is, will the United States of America stop wringing its hands? What do you think?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I hate to say it, but something has to happen to make us focus and to stop wringing our hands. Just turn on the news, and the first thing you hear is about North Korea testing missiles that could hit us. Then there's the whole radical Islamic phenomenon. There's this rise of China, which is, again, in its expression, anti-Western. Looking at all of that, I think it is ... I don't know, I feel a sense of urgency. I hope that you feel a sense of urgency, that we have something to defend. But unfortunately, something, and this is not my analysis, this is what I hear from other people, is this, Americans first try all the bad options, and they try all before, and then the very last one will be ... Now, if that's the case, I hope we have time this time. Yeah.
Peter Robinson: Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Author, most recently, of The Challenge of Dawa, and mother. You're expecting your second child.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: Thank you very much.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Thank you very much. Thank you, Peter, for having me.
Peter Robinson: From the Hoover Institution and Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson.