I know I’m not the first to say this, and I know my voice won’t make much difference, but I feel that, at some point, every liberal–and by that I mean every person devoted to the survival of Enlightenment values–tolerance, liberty, freedom of expression, the kind of freedoms enshrined in The Bill of Rights–has a kind of duty to register support for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom Caroline Glick, the brave and outspoken columnist for The Jerusalem Post recently called “arguably the bravest and most remarkable woman of our times.”
What prompted this on my part was a late night conversation in Los Angeles with a group of writers after the the L.A. Times Book Festival. I’d been invited to talk about my book The Shakespeare Wars and made the cross country trip in part because the panel I was on included one of the writer/historians I have a kind of awestruck respect for, Taylor Branch, author of the three volume history of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
That night at dinner the discussion turned to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali refugee living in Amsterdam, and to the murder of Theo van Gogh the Dutch filmmaker who collaborated with her on the film Submission about Muslim oppression of women.
What was astonishing to me about the murder of Theo van Gogh was the response of U.S. liberals: virtual none. Silence. A silence almost as bad as the response of the Dutch government. (Hirsi Ali, a member of the Dutch parliament, was forced to take refuge in the U.S. because cowardly Dutch authorities, instead of giving her protection against the death threats against her, forced her to seek refuge in the U.S. where she is–so far–still free to speak out eloquently for enlightenment values as she does in her recent book Infidel.)
Even more astonishing was the response of self-proclaimed Hollywood liberals: worse than nothing. A filmmaker, van Gogh, was murdered by religious fanatics because of “blasphemy” and the brave Hollywood establishment was evidently too busy self-righteously reducing their carbon footprints to take notice, to protest, to express outrage at this murderous suppression of free expression. Theo van Gogh should have been memorialized at the Oscars for his courage. It would have been a beautiful defiant gesture in favor of freedom for filmmakers everywhere against threats, violence and intimidation.
What’s worse was that some self proclaimed liberals actually turned upon and attacked Hirsi Ali who was threatened with the same fate as her fellow film maker van Gogh. Yes, attacked her for–in a phrase coined by a prominent liberal intellectual, “Enlightenment fundamentalism”.
Yes “enlightenment fundamentalism” one of the most insidious, disingenuous pieces of Orwellian sophistry I can recall.
Orwellian because “Enlightenment fundamentalism” attempts to turn a belief in tolerance (no murder for “blasphemy”) into intolerance (failure to understand those who murder others for “blasphemy”. A cowardly, disgusting, blame-the-victim attitude. One that was, alas, given credence by many liberals (including one at that dinner in L.A.) who are afraid to stand up for their own values (freedom of expression, etc.) when they are threatened by cultures who kill those who dissent . Enlighenment values are construed as just a cultural preference no better than another culture’s preference for murdering those who believe in them. The sad endgame of cultural relativism and moral equivalence.
It makes me despair for the future of freedom of expression. I fear the murder of Theo van Gogh, the shameful silence about it, and the shameful shunning of Hirsi Ali was a turning point that portends the slow death of all the freedoms so painfully won from ugly theocratic oppression.
If you can’t support Hirsi Ali, you are betraying the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; you don’t deserve the honor (or so I’ve always felt it to be) of calling yourself a liberal.