Jerusalem—There is something dignified in the quiet, determined manner of Ayaan Hirsi Ali as she rises from the audience and walks towards the podium to deliver her lecture. Ali’s intricate history starts in Somalia, where she was born to a Muslim family. At the age of five she underwent female genital mutilation. By her teens she was a devout Muslim. In her early twenties, upon learning of plans for an undesirable arranged marriage, she made her way to Holland, where she applied for asylum. Hirsi Ali studied at Leiden University and began publishing critical articles about Islam, the condition of the Muslim woman, and so forth.
She wrote the script for the Dutch movie “Submission” for director Theo van Gogh, who was subsequently murdered by a Muslim assassin. Hirsi Ali joined the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and in 2003 was elected to the Dutch parliament. A few years later she moved to the United States, where she became a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. She published some books; notably, an autobiography, Infidel, that became an international bestseller. Already in 2005, Time magazine named Hirsi Ali among the 100 most influential people in the world. The internet abounds with information about her, with articles and videos of her lectures.
She is doubly courageous: in her stand against Islam, leading to threats on her life, and vis a vis the Western liberal elite, which disapproves of criticism of multiculturalism and the blindness afflicting Western society in grasping the strategic threat to its existence as a free society.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was visiting Israel for the recent Presidential Conference in Jerusalem.
Israel Hayom: In your lectures you made numerous references to the situation in the Middle East. You claim that people in the West do not understand that what is taking place in the Middle East is not a dialogue.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: More than one issue is at stake here. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian context, the main problem is that you may speak of a peace process, but what you get is a process, not peace. And why is this process so prolonged? Because for the Israelis this issue is a territorial problem. For the Palestinian negotiators, on the other hand, it is not a territorial problem but a religious and ethnic one, It is not only about Palestinians but about all Arabs. Most of all, it is a religious problem.
From the perspective of the Arab leaders, reaching a two-state solution is to betray God, the Koran, the hadith and the tradition of Islam.
Israel Hayom: Even though they are portrayed as secular?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The presumption that the Palestinian negotiators are secular is not supported by facts. Were they secular, there would already be a settled territorial agreement of some kind. But there is no agreement as of today, because on one side it has become religious jihad of all or nothing, while on the other side it is still a territorial issue. Of course I know that there are Israelis who also perceive this as a religious problem; but their numbers pale in comparison to the Muslim side. Reaching a settlement that brings about two states is a religious betrayal—not only for the leadership but for most Muslims today. The West does not understand this.
Israel Hayom: Why? After the many years you have lived in the West, how can you explain this?
The West successfully separated religion and politics, but even in places in the West where there is no distinct separation, still the concept of God and religion, even in the 13th or 15th century, differs to the current reality in the Middle East.
Islam is an Orthopraxy, Islam has a goal. So if you are a true Muslim, you must fight for that goal. You can achieve a temporary peace or truce, but it is not ultimate, not everlasting. It is not just about the territory. Because the territory does not belong to the people; it belongs to God. So for a Palestinian leader—e ven if he is secular, even an atheist—to leave the negotiating room with the announcement of a two-state solution would mean that he would be killed the minute he walks out.
Israel Hayom: Many wise people come here advising us Israelis to act rationally. Do you think this dispute has anything to do with rationalism?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Europeans and Americans—and I do not refer merely to the leadership, but to people in general—when they have a problem, they think there must be some kind of compromise on the table. What they cannot accept is that one party would say “the only rational outcome is our complete victory.” If you put aside the Israeli-Palestinian situation, you see components of this culture in the events in Syria, in Lebanon. You’ve seen it with Mubarak. There is a winner and there is a loser. But there cannot be two winners.
Israel Hayom: So the proposal of compromise stems from naivety?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: You can give it any label you like. I have listened to someone like Tony Blair, I was in two or three conferences where he spoke, and he is not naïve anymore, he is not the same man he was ten years ago in regards to this conflict. More and more leaders see that this conflict is not going to be resolved Western-style, namely that all conflicts are resolvable and no-one leaves the table empty-handed.
In a culture dictated by honor and shame—in addition to the religious issue—defeat of any kind, accepting a compromise, is to leave the room empty-handed. Compromise is loss in this culture. It is very hard to explain this to contemporary Westerners.
Israel Hayom: Many liberals around the world, who support the compromise solution, also tend to blame Israel.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Many liberals perceive Israel to be one of their kind; another liberal, white, rational state, etc. Therefore they expect you to approach matters the way they would. But then they approach the subject in the context of the U.S. or Europe, or some other Western system, where there is rule of law, arbiters, an ability to go to court in case of disagreement. There is a district court, a court of appeals, a supreme court, and once the judges have spoken their decision is final. You lose face, but you have to accept defeat.
What these liberals do not understand is that we are speaking of a fundamentally different context, where such a judicial infrastructure does not exist, and those who aspire for it are a persecuted minority.
Israel Hayom: So do you think that talk about negotiations brought up by the Arab counterparts is a game, with no real intentions behind it?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I hear this argument constantly, also in relation to the Turkey’s Erdogan and in regards to the Saudis. Do you know what is wrong with this argument? If you want peace and not merely a process, you must make peace with the people. The negotiators themselves are of no importance. They are a few individuals who may tomorrow be out of power or dead. You have to have peace with the people you are in conflict with, and as long as they do not want to hear a different tune, you will not have peace. Until the people at large are ready for that compromise, there is no compromise.
There has to be a change of attitude and a change in attitude within the culture and of culture, and I hope that we can see this.
I believe that true emancipation cannot exist without the freedom of the individual, without the individual’s space and voice. The fact that individualism is not given a chance in the Arab Muslim world is related to belonging and the collective. If you want to belong and be part of the collective you have to be a winner. If you are not, then you are a source of shame. ...And for the culture to grow out of such phenomena, change has to come from within.
Israel Hayom: If so, do negotiations have any meaning when we talk about peace while the Palestinian Authority use anti-Israeli school books, which do not even mention Israel by name in their geographical maps?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Not now. Not as long as a majority of the people do not want peace. An Arab leader who genuinely wants peace has to convince the Arab people first, must get their endorsement and then go and get peace. That is why the first thing that needs to be worked out is not so much the relationship with Israel but changing the culture, Islamic and Arab. This process does not depend on you, though you can help it, facilitate it, be a catalyst; but it does not depend on you, on America or the rest of the world.
Israel Hayom: And you think that it will be a huge mistake to give away territory before a cultural change occurs?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I will just say that Israel is not the problem nor is it the solution. Even if you give up all the land, it will not solve any of the problems in the Middle East. It will not obliterate despotism, it will not liberate women, it will not help religious minorities. It won’t bring peace to anyone. Even if Israel does not give up an inch of land -- the result will be the same.
If you want a process, continue the way you are. If you want real, lasting peace, then things have to change first within the Arab Muslim individual, family, school, streets, education, and politics. It is not an Israeli problem. ...This is what I want to say about Muslims in general: Muslims want Sharia’a until they have it... For cultural change to transpire we need 100 years and more to pass.
You can pick any number you want. I am speaking of a lengthy, bloody period. But it is going to change.
By Dror Eydar (Israel Hayom, edited for brevity)