Speech of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on occasion of the Axel Springer Honorary Prize in Berlin
Thank you so much for this great honor. The late Axel Springer had four guiding principles, which he later extended to five after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. I want to begin by reminding you of them.
- Unconditional commitment to German reunification, which he changed to European Union after 1989;
- Reconciliation of the Jews and the Germans and support for the state of Israel;
- Rejection of any kind of political totalitarianism;
- Defense of the free social market;
- Support of the transatlantic alliance and solidarity with the USA on the basis of shared values of freedom.
It is about the third and the fifth of these priniples that I wish to speak to you tonight. In particular, I want to talk about the freedom of speech – and the loss of freedom that comes with that silence. [...]
“People ask me if I have some kind of death wish, to keep saying the things I do. The answer is no, I would like to keep living. However, some things must be said and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.” I wrote those words in 2005. I was alluding to the plight of Muslim women who live in Europe, whose suffering inspired me to make the film Submission with Theo van Gogh. He was shot and stabbed to death by a radical Muslim.
Today, the problem of how to integrate Muslim immigrants into European society is, if anything, even more complex and challenging than it was then. There are, of course, still the advocates of silence. They say that an honest discussion of the challenges posed by some Muslim immigrants to European society will lead to a build-up of hatred against those immigrants: A hatred so vile and so strong as to translate into violence. A violence carried out by lone renegades like the Norwegian Anders Breivik, now on trial for his horrific spree in Oslo last year, or a more organized violence by neo-Nazi groups.
The advocates of silence also warn that honest discussion will encourage the emergence and rise of populist parties whose only political issue is immigration and Islam. They fear the election through non-violent means of politicians with a violent agenda that they will apply to Muslims as soon as they get into office. Advocates of silence conjure up terrifying visions of fascistic regimes that will implement mass deportations of Muslims, mass imprisonment of Muslims, the closing of their mosques, the shutting down of their businesses, the exclusion of Muslims from education and employment, and other types of discrimination.
When voicing these fears, the advocates of silence point, implicitly or explicitly, to the history of Germany between the world wars. The argument is often made that those intellectuals who wrote about “the Jewish question” – not all of whom were self-consciously anti-Semitic – paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power, for his policies of discrimination against Jews – not to mention homosexuals and the handicapped – and the ultimate horrors of the Holocaust. Here in Berlin, more than anywhere else in the world, such fears cannot and should not be lightly dismissed.
Citing this history of intolerance and genocide, the advocates of silence demand that no specific references be made to Islam or Muslims when discussing the issue of integration. They demand that only social and economic aspects of the problem be highlighted and only social and economic policies be implemented. They also urge that cultural demands made by some Muslim leaders be accommodated without complaint. Animal rights groups are asked to look the other way when it comes to the ritual slaughter of sheep, cows and chickens. Women’s rights groups are told to look for other issues when they agitate against women’s only swimming pools, the veil, forced marriages, genital mutilation and even honor killings. Activists may condemn the killing of women and the forcing of girls into marriage, but they may not link it to the religion of Islam or the community of Muslims.
Assaults on Jews or homosexuals may be the responsibility of Muslim youths, indoctrinated by agents of radical Islam to express their religious beliefs in this way, but advocates of silence say once again: “Condemn the act, but do not in any way relate it to the religion of Islam or Muslims.” They argue that these acts of intolerance are relatively small in number and are committed by a fringe of the Muslim immigrant population.
There is a growing resentment all over Europe towards the dependence on the welfare state of Muslim immigrants. The high rate of drop-outs from education. Everywhere in Europe Muslims are a minority, but in some prisons and in many women’s shelters they are shockingly overrepresented.
The advocates of silence warn us that publishing these facts or debating them in the media and in parliament will transform the existing resentment towards Muslims into violent behavior. The sentiment of xenophobia, they argue, is irrational and cannot – or will not – tell the difference between a good Muslim and a bad Muslim. The xenophobes will persecute Muslims regardless of their guilt or innocence and hurt them.
Censorship and silence, we are told, are the best preventive remedies against hatred and violence.
I believe that the advocates of silence are wrong, profoundly and dangerously wrong.
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