An Invitation From Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “Join me and my guests in a new series of dialogues on the grave threats to the foremost freedom—free speech—and how we can defend it.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Image credit: Frank Schirrmacher Foundation/The Swiss Institute of International Studies

Published 3/30/2023

AHA Foundation Founder Ayaan Hirsi Ali has championed the right to free speech for around two decades. As a victim of attempted censorship herself, she knows all too well the importance of defending free speech—and just how dangerous the threats to it can be. Below, she invites you to an upcoming webinar series where, with various experts, she will explore why free speech matters and how we can defend it from the many threats it faces today.

The first webinar will take place on April 25 at 1 pm EDT/10 am PDT/6 pm CET. In a discussion moderated by journalist Flemming Rose, Ayaan will talk to Jacob Mchangama, the author of Free Speech: A History From Socrates to Social Media. You can sign up and send your questions for discussion here. If you are not able to attend, please do still sign up to receive the webinar recording and to be notified about other upcoming dialogues in the series.

At the bottom of this blog, you can also find details of upcoming webinars and links to the recordings of ones which have already happened.

“The right to think, to speak, and to write in freedom and without fear is ultimately a more sacred thing than any religion.” 

I wrote that almost 8 years ago at the end of my book Heretic: Why Islam Needs A Reformation Now. Little did I know that these words would carry even more weight today. The need to defend free speech has become ever more urgent.

This ideal applies beyond the subject of Islam, and beyond the topic of religion more generally, of course. The right to free speech is among the most sacred things to me. It matters more than any ideology, religious or secular, because without it all other freedoms are unattainable. How can you fight for any other freedom if you can’t even speak up in defense of it?

Free speech is the first and foremost Western freedom and the West’s highest ideal—but it applies to and protects everyone, no matter who they are and where they are from. It is most advanced in the West, but it is universal, too, and people have fought and are fighting for it everywhere. 

The threats to free speech are many and various, but Islamism is still a grave one, as I know personally. I have lived with security ever since my friend Theo van Gogh was murdered for making a film with me about the plight of women in Islam—because I was told I was to be next.

Flemming Rose is a former journalist and staunch defender of free speech.

It is not just me, though. My friend Flemming Rose was persecuted for publishing cartoons of Muhammad in 2005. Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and staff were slaughtered for publishing more such cartoons in 2015 and 2020. In 2020, the French schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in broad daylight for showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in his class. In 1989, Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding for a decade and was nearly killed last year by an Islamist assassin just for writing a novel deemed blasphemous by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The effects of such Islamist violence are not just limited to its targets. In liberal democracies that once prized free speech, the threat of Islamist violence scares people into self-censoring. 

These are just the tip of a very large iceberg. Islamism is far from the only threat to free speech today. 

In much of the Western world, a censorious and illiberal new ideology of Critical Social Justice seeks to shut down any speech deemed “offensive” or “harmful” to marginalized groups. Media outlets bow to demands for censorship in the name of this ideology. Sensitive topics like race and gender are cordoned off from vigorous debate, even on many college campuses—and those who dare to challenge the stifling atmosphere that results from this face being cancelled and marginalized.

“In short: free speech is under attack from so many angles right now that it’s difficult to see how it can survive.”

In our effort to become more effective at addressing injustice, we have reached a new and censorious extreme. By paralyzing critical thinking, the advocates of this very ideology shut down any meaningful debate or action—which undermines their goal of securing justice for all.

Meanwhile, well-intentioned attempts to combat disinformation lead to censorship on the internet. The far right cynically portray themselves as free speech champions while seeking to impose their own intolerant ideology on society—and liberals, by being squeamish about defending free speech, make it all too easy for them. Outside of the West, theocracies and tyrannies the world over continue to punish dissent with imprisonment and violence. The brave dissidents in these countries who rely on free thought and speech as their greatest weapon now look at the West and wonder what happened. 

And this isn’t the half of it.


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Ayaan Hirsi Ali Tackles Today’s Burning Issues: Her Writing, Podcasts, and Media Appearances Defending Western Freedoms and Ideals