VAN BAKEL: In Infidel, you point out many positive
religious experiences you had as a Muslim. For instance, you
describe Mecca's Grand Mosque as a place of vastness and beauty.
You praise the kindness that you experienced there, a sense
of community, a lack of prejudice. Are there times when you
miss that aspect of being a practicing believer?
HIRSI ALI: I'd love to go and visit the Mosque in Mecca again,
just for the sheer beauty of it, not for God -- much the way
a non-Catholic might go to Vatican City because of the beauty
of the buildings and the artifacts. There's a sense of calm
in such places that's wonderful, and there's the awe you feel
because of what humanity can accomplish.
do I miss the religious experience? The feelings of belonging
and family and community were powerful, but the price in terms
of freedom was too high. In order to be able to live free, I've
accepted living with the pain of missing my family. As for community,
I experienced a very deep sense of community with my friends
VAN BAKEL: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has
sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements
that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United
States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church
members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic
Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think
Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?
HIRSI ALI: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the
political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side
of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis
and the peace-seeking Muslims.
VAN BAKEL: Don't you mean defeating radical Islam?
HIRSI ALI: No. Islam, period. Once it's defeated, it can mutate
into something peaceful. It's very difficult to even talk about
peace now. They're not interested in peace.
VAN BAKEL: We have to crush the world's 1.5 billion Muslims
under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, "defeat
HIRSI ALI: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there's
no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways.
For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at
present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and
they're the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration
of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop
that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and
you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say,
"This is a warning. We won't accept this anymore."
There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
VAN BAKEL: Militarily?
HIRSI ALI: In all forms, and if you don't do that, then you
have to live with the consequence of being crushed.
VAN BAKEL: Are we really heading toward anything so ominous?
HIRSI ALI: I think that's where we're heading. We're heading
there because the West has been in denial for a long time. It
did not respond to the signals that were smaller and easier
to take care of. Now we have some choices to make. This is a
dilemma: Western civilization is a celebration of life -- everybody's
life, even your enemy's life. So how can you be true to that
morality and at the same time defend yourself against a very
powerful enemy that seeks to destroy you?
VAN BAKEL: George Bush, not the most conciliatory person in
the world, has said on plenty of occasions that we are not at
war with Islam.
HIRSI ALI: If the most powerful man in the West talks like that,
then, without intending to, he's making radical Muslims think
they've already won. There is no moderate Islam. There are Muslims
who are passive, who don't all follow the rules of Islam, but
there's really only one Islam, defined as submission to the
will of God. There's nothing moderate about it.
VAN BAKEL: So when even a hard-line critic of Islam such as
Daniel Pipes says, "Radical Islam is the problem, but moderate
Islam is the solution," he's wrong?
HIRSI ALI: He's wrong. Sorry about that.
VAN BAKEL: Explain to me what you mean when you say we have
to stop the burning of our flags and effigies in Muslim countries.
Why should we care?
HIRSI ALI: We can make fun of George Bush. He's our president.
We elected him. And the Queen of England, they can make fun
of her within Britain and so on. But on an international level,
this has gone too far. You know, the Russians, they don't burn
American flags. The Chinese don't burn American flags. Have
you noticed that? They don't defile the symbols of other civilizations.
The Japanese don't do it. That never happens.
VAN BAKEL: Isn't that a double standard? You want us to be able
to say about Islam whatever we want -- and I certainly agree
with that. But then you add that people in Muslim countries
should under all circumstances respect our symbols, or else.
HIRSI ALI: No, no, no.
VAN BAKEL: We should be able to piss on a copy of the Koran
or lampoon Mohammed, but they shouldn't be able to burn the
queen in effigy. That's not a double standard?
HIRSI ALI: No, that's not what I'm saying. In Iran a nongovernmental
organization has collected money, up to 150,000 British pounds,
to kill Salman Rushdie. That's a criminal act, but we are silent
VAN BAKEL: We are?
HIRSI ALI: Yes. What happened? Have you seen any political response
VAN BAKEL: The fatwa against Rushdie has been the subject of
repeated official anger and protests since 1989.
HIRSI ALI: I don't know. The British sailors who were kidnapped
this year-what happened? Nothing happened. The West keeps giving
the impression that it's OK, so the extremists will get away
with it. Saudi Arabia is an economic partner, a partner in defense.
On the other hand, they-Saudi Arabia, wealthy Saudi people-spread
Islam. They have a sword on their flag. That's the double standard.
VAN BAKEL: I want my government to protest the Rushdie fatwa.
I'm not so sure they ought to diplomatically engage some idiots
burning a piece of cloth or a straw figure in the streets of
Islamabad. Isn't there a huge difference between the two?
HIRSI ALI: It's not just a piece of cloth. It's a symbol. In
a tribal mind-set, if I'm allowed to take something and get
away with it, I'll come back and take some more. In fact, I'll
come and take the whole place, especially since it's my holy
obligation to spread Islam to the outskirts of the earth and
I know I'll be rewarded in heaven. At that point, I've only
done my religious obligation while you're still sitting there
rationalizing that your own flag is a piece of cloth.
have to get serious about this. The Egyptian dictatorship would
not allow many radical imams to preach in Cairo, but they're
free to preach in giant mosques in London. Why do we allow it?
VAN BAKEL: You're in favor of civil liberties, but applied selectively?
HIRSI ALI: No. Asking whether radical preachers ought to be
allowed to operate is not hostile to the idea of civil liberties;
it's an attempt to save civil liberties. A nation like this
one is based on civil liberties, and we shouldn't allow any
serious threat to them. So Muslim schools in the West, some
of which are institutions of fascism that teach innocent kids
that Jews are pigs and monkeys -- I would say in order to preserve
civil liberties, don't allow such schools.
VAN BAKEL: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit
system for Islamic schools, correct?
HIRSI ALI: I wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to have them
all closed, but my party said it wouldn't fly. Top people in
the party privately expressed that they agreed with me, but
said, "We won't get a majority to do that," so it
never went anywhere.
VAN BAKEL: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the
Dutch Constitution, which guarantees that religious movements
may teach children in religious schools and says the government
must pay for this if minimum standards are met. So it couldn't
be done. Would you in fact advocate that again?
HIRSI ALI: Oh, yeah.
VAN BAKEL: Here in the United States, you'd advocate the abolition
HIRSI ALI: All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds
absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but
now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle. I've been saying
this in Australia and in the U.K. and so on, and I get exactly
the same arguments: The Constitution doesn't allow it. But we
need to ask where these constitutions came from to start with-what's
the history of Article 23 in the Netherlands, for instance?
There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written.
There were no jihadists. They had no idea.
VAN BAKEL: Do you believe that the U.S. Constitution, the Bill
of Rights -- documents from more than 200 ago -- ought to change?
HIRSI ALI: They're not infallible. These Western constitutions
are products of the Enlightenment. They're products of reason,
and reason dictates that you can only progress when you can
analyze the circumstances and act accordingly. So now that we
live under different conditions, the threat is different. Constitutions
can be adapted, and they are, sometimes. The American Constitution
has been amended a number of times. With the Dutch Constitution,
I think the latest adaptation was in 1989. Constitutions are
not like the Koran -- nonnegotiable, never-changing.
in a democracy, it's like this: I suggest, "Let's close
Muslim schools." You say, "No, we can't do it."
The problem that I'm pointing out to you gets bigger and bigger.
Then you say, "OK, let's somehow discourage them,"
and still the problem keeps on growing, and in another few years
it gets so bad that I belatedly get what I wanted in the first
that it needs to happen this way, but there's a price for the
fact that you and I didn't share these insights earlier, and
the longer we wait, the higher the price. In itself the whole
process is not a bad thing. People and communities and societies
learn through experience. The drawback is, in this case, that
"let's learn from experience" means other people's
lives will be taken.
VAN BAKEL: When I read Ian Buruma's review of your book in The
New York Times, I felt he wasn't being fair to you when
he wrote that you "espouse an absolutist way of a perfectly
enlightened west at war with the demonic world of Islam."
But maybe that's a pretty apt description of what you believe.
HIRSI ALI: No, that's not fair. I don't think that the West
is perfect, and I think that standing up and defending modern
society from going back to the law of the jungle is not being
know what Buruma saw when he went to Holland [to research Theo
van Gogh's assassination for his book Murder in Amsterdam],
but Theo rode to work on his bicycle one morning, and a man
armed with knives and guns took Theo's life in the name of his
God -- and that same man, Mohammed Bouyeri, wasn't born believing
that. The people who introduced this mindset to Bouyeri took
advantage of the notion of freedom of religion and other civil
Azouz, another young man in Holland convicted of terrorist plotting,
attended a fundamentalist Muslim school in Amsterdam which is
still open. He had maps of the Dutch parliament. He wanted to
kill me and other politicians. He wanted to cause murder and
mayhem congruent with the set of beliefs that he was taught
in school using Dutch taxpayers' money. Now go back in time
a little. Isn't it extremely cruel when you put yourself in
the shoes of that little boy? He was just going to an officially
recognized school in a multicultural society. Everyone approved
-- and now he's being punished for it. He's in jail.
VAN BAKEL: One of the things in your book that struck me was
that many of the women in the book made religious choices that
seemed entirely free. Your childhood teacher, Sister Aziza,
chose to cover herself "to seek a deeper satisfaction of
pleasing God." You described dressing in an ankle-length
black cloak yourself, and how it made you feel sensuous and
feminine and desirable and like an individual. There's also
the scene where many women in your own Somali neighborhood,
including your mother, began dressing in burqas and jilbabs
after encountering a preacher named Boqol Sawm. You and they
apparently did so of their free will, without any obvious coercion.
So what's the problem with that?
HIRSI ALI: I really thought Sister Aziza was convincing, and
I wanted to be like her. And she talked about God and hell and
heaven in a way I hadn't heard before. My mother would only
scream, "Pray, it's time to pray!" without ever explaining
why. Sister Aziza wasn't doing that.
she did teach us to hate Jews. I must confess to a deep emotional
hatred I felt for Jews as a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old living in
Kenya. You almost can't help it; you become part of something
bigger. I think that's how totalitarian movements function and
that's what's wrong with them. You lose your faculty of reason.
You're told, "Don't think for yourself. Just follow the
people." OK. "Kill people." OK, fine.
VAN BAKEL: But I don't think that you, at the time, would have
said that you had lost your faculty of reason. Nor would your
mother have copped to that. You and the other women believed
you were all making a perfectly free, rational choice to dress
religiously. And why not?
HIRSI ALI: Boqol Sawm is a Somali man who was offered a scholarship
to go to Medina to learn true Islam. He was indoctrinated in
Medina, and then he was sent with a message to go out and be
a missionary, and that's what he was doing and he did it voluntarily.
No one kidnapped him. And he convinced a lot of people.
VAN BAKEL: Isn't it all in the eye of the beholder? When you
say he was indoctrinated, he would say, "I was enlightened.
I was gaining knowledge of my one true faith."
HIRSI ALI: I agree with you. When I was with Sister Aziza I
thought I was being enlightened. I wasn't aware of all the terms
that we are using now: fundamentalism, radical Islam, jihadism,
and so on. We were simply true and pure Muslims. We were seeking
to live as true Muslims, practicing true Islam, which you find
in the Koran. But it's a problematic ideology because it demands
subservience to Allah, not just from believers but from everyone.
VAN BAKEL: Having lived in the United States for about a year
now, do you find that Muslims in the United States have by and
large integrated better here than they have in Europe?
HIRSI ALI: Since I moved here, I've spent most of my time in
airports, in airplanes, in waiting rooms, in hotels, doing promotion
for Infidel all over the world, so the amount of time
I've actually lived in the U.S. is very small. But yes, I have
the impression that Muslims in the United States are far more
integrated than Muslims in Europe. Of course, being assimilated
doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be a jihadist, but the
likelihood of Muslims turning radical here seems lower than
one thing, America doesn't really have a welfare system. Mohammed
Bouyeri had all day long to plot the murder of Theo van Gogh.
American Muslims have to get a job. What pushes people who come
to America to assimilate is that it's expected of them. And
people are not mollycoddled by the government.
a lot of white guilt in America, but it's directed toward black
Americans and native Indians, not toward Muslims and other immigrants.
People come from China, Vietnam, and all kinds of Muslim countries.
To the average American, they're all fellow immigrants.
white guilt in Germany and Holland and the U.K. is very different.
It has to do with colonialism. It has to do with Dutch emigrants
having spread apartheid in South Africa. It has to do with the
Holocaust. So the mindset toward immigrants in Europe is far
more complex than here. Europeans are more reticent about saying
no to immigrants.
by and large, Muslim immigrants in Europe do not come with the
intention to assimilate. They come with the intention to work,
earn some money, and go back. That's how the first wave of immigrants
in the Netherlands was perceived: They would just come to work
and then they'd go away. The newer generations that have followed
are coming not so much to work and more to reap the benefits
of the welfare state. Again, assimilation is not really on their
in order to get official status here in the U.S., you have to
have an employer, so it's the employable who are coming. The
Arabs who live here came as businessmen, and a lot of them come
from wealthy backgrounds. There are also large communities of
Indian and Pakistani Muslims, who tend to be very liberal. Compare
that to the Turks in Germany, who mostly come from the poor
villages of Anatolia. Or compare it to the Moroccans in the
Netherlands, who are for the most part Berbers with a similar
socio-economic background. It's a completely different set of
finally, there's the matter of borders. In America, Muslim immigrants
typically pass through an airport, which means the Americans
have a better way of controlling who comes in-a far cry from
Europe's open borders. Forty years ago, when Europe began talking
about lifting borders between countries to facilitate the free
traffic of goods and labour, they weren't thinking about waves
of immigrants. They thought of Europe as a place people left.
America, on the other hand, has always been an immigration nation,
with border controls that have been in place for a long time.
I know the southern border is difficult to monitor, but for
Arab Muslims and Pakistanis coming to America, it's very hard
to enter illegally.
passing any moral judgment, those are the differences between
the two places.
VAN BAKEL: Are you concerned about the efficacy of your message?
Do you worry that, at least in the short term, you have exacerbated
the miserable treatment of women under much of mainstream Islam
by prompting moderate Muslims to turn inward to their religion
because they really don't want to follow the path of the apostate
HIRSI ALI: Young men now want to become terrorists in response
to something I've written, that sort of thing? I don't think
that is the case. If we continue that reasoning, we'll never
scrutinize anything. Can we ever write? Can we ever criticize
VAN BAKEL: You write in your book that you would never have
voted for Pim Fortuyn, the murdered leader of an anti-immigration
party who had been considered a candidate for the Dutch prime
ministership. I wonder what ideological differences you had
HIRSI ALI: It wasn't an ideological difference I had with Pim
Fortuyn. In the Netherlands, new parties provoke change; they're
shock parties. They don't carry out policies. Also, Fortuyn
had no experience and had an explosive temper. Don't get me
wrong; he would have been a wonderful addition to the Dutch
parliament, because rhetorically he was far stronger than all
the other candidates. But I don't think he really wanted to
become prime minister. He was only joking.
VAN BAKEL: He was?
HIRSI ALI: I think he was. He was a flamboyant hedonist. To
be a prime minister, you sleep about four hours a night. So
anyway, I wouldn't have voted for him. I've always voted for
VAN BAKEL: You don't sound like an establishment-supporting
kind of person. You're supposed to be a big rebel.
HIRSI ALI: Yeah, but there are rebels and rebels. There are
rebels who are always against something, like the Socialist
Party in the Netherlands. To them, rebelling itself is the aim.
That's where they get their thrill from. But I'm rebelling for
something. I want something to be established.
VAN BAKEL: Tolerance is probably the most powerful word there
is in the Netherlands. No other word encapsulates better what
the Dutch believe really defines them. That makes it very easy
for people to say that when they're being criticized, they're
not being tolerated -- and from there it's only a small step
to saying they're being discriminated against or they're the
victims of Islamophobia or racism or what have you.
HIRSI ALI: We have to revert to the original meaning of the
term tolerance. It meant you agreed to disagree without violence.
It meant critical self-reflection. It meant not tolerating the
intolerant. It also came to mean a very high level of personal
the Muslims arrived, and they hadn't grown up with that understanding
of tolerance. In short order, tolerance was now defined by multiculturalism,
the idea that all cultures and religions are equal. Expectations
were created among the Muslim population. They were told they
could preserve their own culture, their own religion. The vocabulary
was quickly established that if you criticize someone of colour,
you're a racist, and if you criticize Islam, you're an Islamophobe.
VAN BAKEL: The international corollary to the word tolerance
is probably respect. The alleged lack of respect has become
a perennial sore spot in relations between the West and Islam.
Salman Rushdie receiving a British knighthood supposedly signified
such a lack of respect, as did the Danish cartoons last year,
and many other things. Do you believe this is what Muslims genuinely
HIRSI ALI: It's not about respect. It's about power, and Islam
is a political movement.
VAN BAKEL: Uniquely so?
HIRSI ALI: Well, it hasn't been tamed like Christianity. See,
the Christian powers have accepted the separation of the worldly
and the divine. We don't interfere with their religion, and
they don't interfere with the state. That hasn't happened in
I don't even think that the trouble is Islam. The trouble is
the West, because in the West there's this notion that we are
invincible and that everyone will modernize anyway, and that
what we are seeing now in Muslim countries is a craving for
respect. Or it's poverty, or it's caused by colonization.
Western mindset -- that if we respect them, they're going to
respect us, that if we indulge and appease and condone and so
on, the problem will go away-is delusional. The problem is not
going to go away. Confront it, or it's only going to get bigger.
Ali: Letter to a Muslim
Manji: Faith Without Fear
Islam on the Rise
Hage's Long Day's Journey into Secularism
Shape of Rape in Pakistan: Muhktaran Mai
Woman in Iraq: Judy Rebick
Edward Said: Chronicle of an Infitada Foretold
Hitchens Tariq Ali Debate