Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture at ALA Midwinter Meeting

The last session of the day today was a big auditorium lecture (A conversation with a moderator) with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Here are my notes:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture
Moderator: Donna Seaman

She worked in a ThinkTank. Managing immigration in Holland. How much immigration can a welfare state absorb and remain a welfare state?

On 9/11, when she saw the towers fall, she prayed that it was not Muslims who did this.
Was frightened when some Muslim kids were filmed being happy about it.
Holland was trying to pretend that nothing had happened.
A vast march of Muslims saw the attacks as the right way to attack the infidels.
She had to evaluate where she stood on Islam.

Donna Seaman: Talk about when you discovered your first school library.

Hirsi Ali: The institution called a library is why she’s here.

They had Shakespeare, but the hottest copies were Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton

The most highly read copies had the end missing, but they were still kept in the library.

That was the seeding of her intellectual life.

What was your education like before that?

We are not Islands. Our communities exercise control.

When she was in Somalia, it was all about the collective — everyone policing her behavior, and everyone else’s behavior.

She moved to Kenya at 10 years old, and she went to school, because her father insisted.

There were no screens. She had “A lot of time to be bored and be evil.”

In hindsight, a little bit of my ethical moral training came from Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. Also the individualistic way of thinking about things — the basis was laid back then.

For an average student, seeded with extremely limited resources with the ideas of the enlightenment…. shows how important children’s minds are.

If we consciously try to promote the ideas of the enlightenment, we can reach children’s minds.

For her, her writing is more about the message than about the craft. English is her 4th language.

You need the freedom of expression for her message to get out.
She was amazed when she moved to the Netherlands at the freedom of expression.

When the Dutch had a flood, they blamed the government, rather than God!

In the context where she grew up, her questions were clamped down.

After she wrote Infidel, she became famous or infamous, just from telling the story — and she offended the community she grew up in. The collective was not ready to reveal these things to the world.

99% of western society said it was different — but not some of the fundamentalist westerners. Authoritative collectives treat individuals the same way. This is something universal.

She learned from the responses is that there are degrees in which the authoritative collective can inhibit freedom.

Where we are now is going to military means first.

Most Muslims are good people. They are not going to become atheists. In 2010, she thought they should become Christians.

Then Arab Spring happened. She saw crowds of young people demanding freedom.

After they were standing up to despots, they will learn to stand up to the personal despot. Students will start asking questions.

In the Muslim context, it is “You have to obey because Allah says so.”

The question now is, “Who is Allah? Who is Mohammed to tell me what to do?”

Now seeds for reformation are there.

She is seeing young women having a state of dissonance.

Some choose to clear that dissonance by becoming more fundamentalist.

They cocoon themselves by going by the letter.

What gives her hope is those who try to get to the core of the text. We need a new relationship with God.

Librarians are probably the happiest community on the planet because they have time to read.

It helps to remember when Christianity was as intolerant as Islam is now. And remember that those who wanted change were accused of blasphemy.

Remember that with Christianity: That’s how it was. 500 years ago, Christians were easily offended as well.

Librarians can encourage those conversations.

Libraries are a place where you come and reflect. Think of libraries as temples of enlightenment.

People who are vulnerable to terrible ideas need to see competition of ideas at libraries.

We need the courage to say, if I’m in a place to choose between my conscience and the demands of a God, I need to choose my conscience.

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