Ayaan Hirsi Ali Speaks Out
: I am here to defend the right to offend. It is my conviction that the
vulnerable enterprise called democracy cannot exist without free
expression, particularly in the media.
I am of the opinion that it was correct to publish
the cartoons of Muhammad in Jyllands Posten and it was right to republish
them in other papers across
Shame on those papers and TV channels who lacked the
courage to show their readers the caricatures in ‘the cartoon affair’.
Shame on those politicians who stated that publishing and republishing the
drawings was “unnecessary”, “insensitive”, “disrespectful” and
“wrong”. Shame on those European companies in the
that advertised “we are not Danish” or “we don’t sell Danish
products”. This is cowardice. Nestle chocolates will never taste the
same after this, will they?
We have been flooded with opinions on how tasteless
and tactless the cartoons are — views emphasising that the cartoons only
led to violence and discord. What good has come of the cartoons, so many
Well, publication of the cartoons confirmed that
there is widespread fear among authors, filmmakers, cartoonists and
journalists who wish to describe, analyse or criticise intolerant aspects
of Islam all over
Today, the open society is challenged by Islamism,
ascribed to a man named Muhammad bin Abdullah, who lived in the
7th-century AD and who is regarded as a prophet. Many Muslims are peaceful
people; not all are fanatics. As far as I am concerned, they have every
right to be faithful to their convictions. But within Islam exists a
hard-line Islamist movement that rejects democratic freedoms and wants to
I am a dissident. I was born in
, and grew up in
. I used to be faithful to the guidelines laid down by the prophet
Muhammad. I used to hold the view that Muhammad was perfect; the only
source of, and indeed, the criterion between good and bad. Now I don’t.
I think that the prophet was wrong to have placed
himself and his ideas above critical thought. I think that he was wrong to
have subordinated women to men. I think he was wrong to have decreed that
gays be murdered. I think he was wrong to have said that apostates must be
He was wrong in saying that adulterers should be
flogged and stoned, and the hands of thieves should be cut off. He was
wrong in claiming that a proper society could be built only on his ideas.
I am not the only dissident in Islam. There are more
like me: here in the West, in Teheran, in
The dissidents of Islamism, like the dissidents of
communism, don’t have nuclear bombs or any such weapons. All we have are
our thoughts; and all we ask is a fair chance to express them.
Things may seem difficult and confusing today. But I
am optimistic that the virtual wall, between lovers of liberty and those
who succumb to the seduction and safety of totalitarian ideas, will come
down one day.
The writer is a
member of the Dutch lower house parliament for the Liberal Democratic
Party. In 2005, she was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most
influential people in the world. This article is excerpted from a speech
she gave in