Ayaan Hirsi Ali was my first choice for an interview at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, which concludes today. She spoke at the conference Wednesday morning on a panel including Leon Wieseltier, the long time literary editor of The New Republic, on whom I would have liked to use the TV-B-Gone device that readers recommended to turn off the unwanted intrusion of CNN. The panel also featured Dennis Ross and Gabi Ashkenazi. It was an impressive panel.
Ayaan’s presentation was, as you might expect, terrific. (In this post I am going to take the liberty of referring to Ayaan by her first name.) Having paid a high price for her own freedom — a price she continues to pay with concerns about her safety — she spoke with great warmth of Israel. She expressed appreciation for the vitality of its civic culture, its tolerance, its devotion to equal rights and its promotion of equal opportunity for all. She is one brave lady.
My request for an interview was one among many, but I am told that her assistant took a look at Power Line and advised her that we would be a hospitable forum for her views. He put us at the top of her interview list. Ayaan, you have a perceptive assistant. We are grateful.
In the video below, I tried to draw her out a little bit for readers. In her response to one of my questions, she cites her memoir Infidel. Please check it out. She apologized for her halting response to my halting questions; she’s wrestling with jet lag and English must be her second or third language.
Responding to my question about her observations of Israel, Ayaan mentioned the sensitivity of Israelis to the opinion of the world community. She admires the moral concerns underlying the desire for approval, but expressed concern by the same token that Israelis stand up for themselves. This concern derives from the sympathetic insight of a true friend.
On a related note, Ayaan also expressed eloquent disgust at the oil-funded campaign of delegitimization waged against Israel by autocrats exploiting the freedoms of the West against “the only functioning democracy in the region.” She has a deep understanding of the game that is afoot.
Both in her remarks this morning and in the video below, Ayaan expressed optimism about the outcome of the Arab revolutions underway in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere. She believes that Pandora’s box has been opened in the Arab world, but she gives it a positive twist while distinguishing between the short term and the long term effects of the revolutions. She thinks that the present tumult involves subjects demanding to be treated as citizens, wives seeking to emerge from marriages of subjugation, students beginning to challenge teachers and Muslim worshipers beginning to grant the pronouncements of imams with something less than absolute authority. She finds the challenge to authority to make out a unifying theme.
Sincere thanks to Ayaan for making herself available for the interview and to my hosts at Finn Partners for setting it up for me.