We are getting closer and closer to the Oscars, and all kinds of people are bracing themselves for a night of political broadsides and idealistic sermons about hot social issues. It will, we are told, be a night for the Hollywood elites to be courageous and to speak up on behalf of freedom. Thus, it is time -- once again -- for me to tilt at a particular windmill. Why isn't Hollywood doing something to honor the outspoken feminist writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali? An honorary Oscar statue would be nice. Of course, inviting her to the ceremony would be dangerous since Ali -- a member of the Dutch parliament -- has been forced to live in hiding ever since the murder of the Michael Moore of Europe, the rude gadfly and filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose throat was ritually slashed by radical Dutch Muslim in response to his blunt film Submission, made with Ali. (The second photo is a scene from the film.)
As it turns out, the crisis sparked by the 12 Danish cartoons of Muhammad recently inspired Ali to come out of hiding and to risk a public speech in a highly symbolic setting -- Berlin. If you want to read MSM coverage of the speech here in America, good luck. The BBC did cover it.
You can click here and read Ali's speech text for yourself. Here is my question: How many American newspapers would dare to run this speech on their op-ed pages in the current political climate? The apostate Muslim was not, it is safe to say, playing it safe. Many of the sound bites are memorable. Here is an early statement of her thesis:
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. Journalists must not forgo the obligation of free speech, which people in other hemispheres are denied. ...
Shame on those papers and TV channels who lacked the courage to show their readers the caricatures in The Cartoon Affair. These intellectuals live off free speech but they accept censorship. They hide their mediocrity of mind behind noble-sounding terms such as 'responsibility' and 'sensitivity'. Shame on those politicians who stated that publishing and re-publishing the drawings was 'unnecessary', 'insensitive', 'disrespectful' and 'wrong'. ... Shame on those European companies in the Middle East 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?
For Ali, the key to the whole affir is that the publication of the cartoons, and the global protests against them, confirmed precisely what European liberals (in the old sense of that word) wanted to confirm, that there is in fact "widespread fear among authors, filmmakers, cartoonists and journalists who wish to describe, analyse or criticise intolerant aspects of Islam." The crisis also has put a spotlight on the rise of European laws to limit free speech that is offensive to Muslims.
This is the bottom line, for Ali: There was a time when European liberals defended Communism, while dissidents fled to the West seeking freedom. Now this is happening again, she said. It is at this point that Ali's own story becomes her political message.
I am a dissident, like those from the Eastern side of this city who defected to the West. I too defected to the West. I was born in Somalia, and grew up in Saudi Arabic and Kenya. I used to be faithful to the guidelines laid down by the prophet Muhammad. Like the thousands demonstrating against the Danish drawings, I used to hold the view that Muhammad was perfect -- the only source of, and indeed, the criterion between good and bad. In 1989 when Khomeini called for Salman Rushdie to be killed for insulting Muhammad, I thought he was right. Now I don't.
You don't have to agree with everything that Ali has to say -- many Europeans do not -- to realize that what she is saying is newsworthy.
Perhaps Susan Sarandon could do a dramatic reading of this speech at the Oscars. Or, perhaps, Frank Rich could write about this speech in the New York Times. He likes blunt statements that attack traditional forms of religious faith. Right?