|AJC Westchester Chapter Hosts Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Shaaray Tefila
New York – October 16, 2007 – Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Dutch legislator and author of the best-seller Infidel, engaged in one-hour conversation on radical Islam with AJC Executive Director David A. Harris before an audience of 500 last night at Shaaray Tefila synagogue in Bedford, NY.
"Riyadh and Tehran are the address for radical Islam," said Hirsi Ali. Commenting on the U.S.-Saudi relationship, she said, "we are wrong if we consider Saudi Arabia an ally when we don't share the same values."
Hirsi Ali urged greater use of the internet to distribute videos and books on audio that convey to Muslims an "alternative set of beliefs." She asserted this would be more effective than marketing American soft drinks and other products in Muslim countries.
"Totalitarian regimes cannot be sustained for a long time," she said. "The propaganda they are spreading is not viable."
She warned that Saudi Arabia is building madrassas worldwide to spread its puritanical political Wahabbi ideology, while Iran is intent on confronting the "infidels" by building a nuclear weapon.
Hirsi Ali lives under constant death threats for her outspoken criticism of radical Islam's subjugation of women and hatred towards Jews and other faiths as well as Muslims who seek reform. "That price is worth paying, better than doing nothing," she said.
"If there is a hero of our time, it is Ayaan Hirsi Ali," said Harris as he began the conversation at Shaaray Tefila. Hirsi Ali received AJC's Moral Courage Award in 2006.
Conveying a message of hope, Hirsi Ali also presented a portrait of moderate Muslims, like herself, who challenge those intent on imposing strict Islamic dogma. "Islamic individuals are very diverse. There are Muslims who really want to change," she said.
Nonetheless, the struggle is enormous and those who challenge strict Islamic teachings face intimidation and often violent punishment. "In Islamic dogma you cannot refute what is in the Koran," which leaves reformers like her with the bitter choice between self-censorship or death threats, she said.
"The first thing to do is address those who are intimidating," said Hirsi Ali. "We want to stigmatize and marginalize the fundamentalists."
While this is largely a struggle within Islam, the impact of radical Islam is far-reaching and deadly. "Two-thirds of the violence in the world today is perpetrated by Muslims, even though they are only one-fifth of the world population," she said.
Hirsi Ali voiced concern about the approaches of European governments toward radical elements in their growing Muslim populations. She said that they are not doing enough to counter radical elements and to encourage the assimilation of Muslim immigrants.
"September 11 had a more profound impact on countries like Holland than the United States," said Hirsi Ali. "There is a struggle of values within Europe."
Hirsi Ali said that the battle positions those who advocate "appeasement" as a means of defeating radical Islam against those who seek direct challenges that would involve asserting more control over Muslim schools and mosques.
She expressed deep disappointment that the Dutch government has not been confronting radical Islam on its soil. Today, she said, 40 percent of the population in four major Dutch cities is Muslim, and 60 percent of schoolchildren are Muslim. What they are learning in Muslim schools is an "anti-democratic agenda," she said.
"Western societies need not fear Islam," said Hirsi Ali. "The West is more powerful that the fanatics."
The event was the first in a series of programs jointly sponsored by AJC's Westchester Chapter and Shaaray Tefila. "We need to be aware of the threats, the complexities of our world," said Rabbi David Greenberg, senior rabbi at Shaaray Tefila.